In 2016, Idris Elba voiced Shere Khan the tiger in the live-action remake of The Jungle Book. In 2022, he fights a lion resembling Scar from The Lion King. In a strange twist, Beast is a more enthralling CGI fest than the 2019 Lion King remake, despite having a fraction of the budget. It’s also more fun than Jurassic World: Dominion – or most of the Jurassic Park sequels for that matter. Going off the premise alone, this easily could’ve been a run-of-the-mill b-movie suited for the Syfy channel. Thanks to a committed cast and director Baltasar Kormákur’s visual eye, Idris vs. Lion delivers more atmosphere and substance than it has any right to.
Although the vicious animals are mostly CG, much of Beast was shot on location in South Africa. Kormákur captures the landscape’s natural beauty, crafting a film that surprisingly makes you want to travel. Even when the titular beast attacks, nobody can deny that the backdrops are majestic. Speaking of majestic sights, Elba plays Dr. Nate Samuels. After losing his estranged wife, who he met in South Africa, Nate decides that his daughters should reconnect with their roots. Iyana Halley and Leah Sava Jeffries turn in believable performances as Nate’s teenage children. Sharlto Copley also gives his most memorable performance since breaking out with District 9 as Martin, a family friend who hates poachers.
Before unleashing the beast, the film effectively conveys the wonders of nature. Martin has a touching reunion with a pack of lions, calling to mind a certain viral video from the MySpace era. When the time does come for blood and mayhem, Beast doesn’t disappoint. Encountering a lion that’s been pushed to the edge by poachers, the film creates a villain that’s oddly sympathetic and just realistic enough. At times, the lion comes close to seeming super-human (or super-animal), brushing off tranquilizer darts and burns. However, the beast has more in common with the shark from Jaws than the shark from Jaws: The Revenge.
If you’re looking for an animal attack movie that goes completely over-the-top, there’s nothing on par with a shark eating Samuel L. Jackson. However, the more grounded approach is welcome thanks to Elba’s performance. We’re used to seeing Elba play gods and superheroes. To an extent, he plays against type here as an average father out of his element. Since he is Idris Elba, though, we also don’t have a hard time buying the moments that Nate needs to fight for his family. Even then, Nate emphasizes brain over brawn, which is what separates humans from animals.
For all the smart moves that Nate makes, certain decisions will leave you questioning the characters at times. A few plot points are also set up without receiving much of a payoff. The final payoff is satisfying, though, both as an animal attack movie and as a family drama. Most satisfying of all, Beast clocks in at a refreshing 93 minutes. In an age where so many action pictures take the audience hostage for what feels like an eternity, Beast knows precisely how much to give us before gracefully bowing out.