Alpha movie review: dog tired

Alpha yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

The remarkable Ice Age setting is all that distinguishes — and not by much — a depressingly conventional boy-and-his-dog story.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): love a good dog story
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

It’s the first boy-and-his-dog story! Of course it’s a boy who tamed a wolf to become the first doggo: patriarchal bullshit was fully in place in the imagined world of Ice Age Europe, 20,000 years ago, of Alpha. (I briefly mistook the name of screenwriter Daniele Sebastian Wiedenhaupt to be a female one. I was wrong.) Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee: Deadpool 2, Slow West) is the son of the — male, natch — chief, Tau (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson: Atomic Blonde, Noah), who must be trained up for leadership one day, because men lead and leadership is a thing that must be prepared for by manly hunting because literally what other way of organizing human society could there possibly be? The evo psych is strong with this one. (There’s a lady shaman [Leonor Varela: All I Wish, Captive], but she, it seems, is a rubber stamp for the chief: she doesn’t bless the hunting party until the chef gives her a nod of approval to do so.)

“...and I packed your extra woolly-mammoth socks. Now don’t go bringing home any strays! Oh, see, honey, I just invented humanity’s first momism.”
“…and I packed your extra woolly-mammoth socks. Now don’t go bringing home any strays! Oh, see, honey, I just invented humanity’s first momism.”

So off Keda goes on his first hunt, even though his stay-at-home mom, Rho (Natassia Malthe: This Means War, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief), frets that her son “hunts with his heart, not with his spear” and will probably get himself killed. Indeed, Keda cannot even bring himself to finish off a wounded boar that the hunting party has brought down for dinner on the inexplicably looooong journey to the hunting grounds. (It seems like the little Cro-Magnon village could be closer to where the food is. It’s not like the weather is any better where they’ve settled, as we see.) Still, that means the softhearted boy will later refrain from killing a wolf that is wounded while hunting him after Keda gets separated from Dad and the others. With remarkable ease and speed — considering that no one in human history appears to have even considered such a thing before — Keda will make friends with the wolf (played by Chuck, a Czech wolfdog, which is, ironically, a new breed). Here is the first game of fetch! Here is the first water bowl! Please no skritches yet, we’re still semiwild! Okay, skritches now accepted! Awww, cute!

The CGI megafauna is as cheesy as Morgan Freeman’s voice-of-god narration…

“Life is for the strong!” Tau had warned Keda, and here the boy is, finding a new kind of strength, in partnering up with a rival on the game trail. And that’s not a terrible message, that there are many different ways of being strong. But the remarkable setting here is just about all the distinguishes this familiar tale from so many like it that have come before… and it doesn’t even take many chances with that, beyond director Albert Hughes’s (The Book of Eli, From Hell) bold decision to offer up all the dialogue in what is basically a kiddie adventure in an unspecified ancient language (subtitled). The CGI megafauna that populates these spectacular and breathtakingly unspoiled vistas is as cheesy as Morgan Freeman’s voice-of-god narration importuning us to appreciate just how foundational to human civilization Keda’s actions here are. We might appreciate this more if how it is presented to us didn’t feel so depressingly conventional.

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