There’s a lean and mean nature to Beast that works far better than you might expect. The tension and thrills of a fight for your life is depicted with a fair amount of visceral effectiveness. At the same time, Beast is also the type of film that throws all logic and intelligence out the window whenever it pleases. In a slightly schlockier movie, that would have been par for the course. Here, however, it’s just well done enough to kind of piss you off. The flick has enough going in its favor that it ultimately should have been better than it turned out. Without characters betraying their previously established minds, this could have actually been something, as opposed to throwaway entertainment.
Beast has individual moments that really work, but so much of it is cliched and telegraphed ahead of time that it’s impossible not to see where everything is going. There’s no consistency with the characters either, as they alternate between demanding that someone stays in safety and just wandering out when they know something very dangerous is lurking. It’s silly, but gets to the point of frustration quickly.
After a prologue establishing why there’s one very pissed off lion out there in the savannah, we meet our hero. Dr. Nate Samuels (Idris Elba) has arrived in Africa with his daughters Meredith (Iyana Halley) and Norah (Leah Jeffries), hoping for a safari vacation after the loss of their mother/wife. Meeting family friend and preserve warden Martin Battles (Sharlto Copley), they settle in for some bonding, but the Samuels family has more than its fair share of pain to deal with. The next day, Martin takes them out into the preserve for a private tour, including a cuddly meeting with his favorite pride of lions. The calm is short-lived, however.
Encountering a village decimated by a lion and evidence of some rough poachers in the area, Martin wants to get the family out of danger, but in short order, that rogue lion from earlier appears. It injures Martin and pins the Samuels in their truck. It even seems to be stalking them. Has this lion realized that its true enemy is man? And if so, do these people even stand a chance?
Idris Elba is pretty good here, while both Iyana Halley and Leah Jeffries have their moments. The trio have a decent family chemistry, in particular between the sisters. Elba is a solid action hero, though obviously at his best in the more serious moments. At the same time, don’t sleep on his slyly funny comments, even in dark times. As for Sharlto Copley, he’s fine, in particular in a scene with friendlier lions, but the film doesn’t ask too much of him. Supporting players include Martin Munro, but this is largely the Idris Elba show.
Director Baltasar Kormákur keeps things pretty tense, but the script by Ryan Engle and Jaime Primak Sullivan prevents anything too noteworthy from ever happening. Beast wants to keep you on the edge of your seat, but it also wants to stop for family bonding/issues, and it never does so cleanly. Between that and the screenplay requiring characters to randomly act far dumber than they actually are, it’s rough to see this done in such a scattershot manner. At the same time, there’s a lovely moment with friendlier lions. That being said, they give the “bad” lion such strong motivation, it’s hard to root against him.
Beast has thrills in the moment, as well as a solid Idris Elba performance, but it falls short when any level of logic is placed before or required of it. Again, that’s sort of par for the course, but with this little bit of extra here, it truly stands out as an issue. Depending on how much this bugs you, that might play into how much you’ll enjoy this one. For me, it has its charms, but is too flawed to fully warrant a recommendation.