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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

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.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2018’s other theatrical releases.

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yellow light 2.5 stars

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Alpha (2018) | directed by Albert Hughes
US/Can release: Aug 17 2018
UK/Ire release: Aug 24 2018

MPAA: rated PG-13 for some intense peril
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate threat, injury detail)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Debbie Sens

    I really enjoyed this movie because of the scenery and I am a sucker for prehistory–but my eyes rolled in the back of my head at the whole, be an alpha thing! At least it showed him being sensitive and good with animals as a good thing though and not a sign of weakness. They should have given the Shaman lady, and the one female hunter better parts too.

  • Isobel_A

    Meh. It isn’t even scientifically accurate. Isn’t the consensus now that dogs basically domesticated themselves, followng groups of people around and helping us deal with our leftovers?

  • Debbie Sens

    it did have quite the archaic portrayal of the Ice age didn’t it? Although I thought it was cats that domesticated themselves?

  • David_Conner

    I think it was a two way street. Certainly dogs wouldn’t have become as irrevocably separate from wolves without thousands of years of selective breeding.

    I have to admit I’m a sucker for the “relationship that changed the world” stuff, though.

  • Ash

    Why are you so angry?

  • Bluejay

    If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.

  • Danielm80

    She’s angry because she watches the news. And she’s angry because of things like these:


    But if you’re assuming that she must be angry just because she doesn’t like a trite, sexist movie, you may be reading some things into the review.

  • Debbie Sens

    How in the world does she sound angry? She actually gave the film a fairly good review. Since the film was supposed to be historical in nature, criticizing the outdated views on hunters and gatherers is perfectly valid. Wolves don’t even have alphas, and neither do humans.

  • Guys like you, mostly.

  • It’s not even that the movie itself is sexist, more that it’s telling a familiar story we’ve seen too many times before before Hollywood overall is sexist. We literally did not need another boy-and-his-dog story. A girl-and-her-dog story would have been fresh.

  • LaSargenta

    Why are you so predictable?

  • Edgar Cayce

    What a pedestrian, monotonous, ponderous feminist bag of BS…MJ is full of estrogen driven anxiety because a movie reflects what is probably close to the “truth!?”…it’s just how it probably was MJ…period. Now go sit in the corner, sucking your thumb, whimpering, like the coward you are…bending the truth for feminism is propaganda.

  • Bluejay

    This comment is the frantic bravado of someone terrified that feminists and their allies are raising their voices and gaining ground. Have fun spewing your vitriol, because that’s not going to change the fact that your “alpha” days (or the ILLUSION that you were ever “alpha”) are numbered.

  • Edgar Cayce

    Have you seen the Movie?…didn’t think so….

  • Edgar Cayce

    Not one mention by the Feminist fools reviewing the movie that the Wold was Female…just saying….

  • Bluejay

    It’s not about the Movie, mister random Capitalization. It’s about the sexism in YOUR comment, and about you being a bullying dickwad asshat. Run along home, little boy.

  • Edgar Cayce

    “It’s not about the Movie!?”…on a Movie Review site? What frigging Planet are you living on?…Ms. random anxiety, angst ridden, syntax OCD, gender impaired, vagina hat, male hater…(…note the random ellepsis usage “trigger”…)…CURVY GIRL…besides, my Avatar is way cooler than your Avatar…apparently your Avatar mimics your ego…so large you can’t fit it in the little box…just saying…

  • Edgar Cayce

    SPOILER ALERT!…Not one mention by the Feminist fools reviewing the movie that the Wolf was Female…just saying….

  • Edgar Cayce

    No..consensus is that Cats domesticated themselves….

  • Edgar Cayce

    yeh..Anger is such a “healing” emotion…(enter Antifah…)

  • BdubIndy

    Someone needs a hobby and a massage. If you can’t review a film without applying some bs feminist slant then get a new job.

  • We can hear your fear. Get used to it. The women are here for your power and privilege.

  • BdubIndy

    What? I can’t hear you over my male awesomeness.


    Preorder my comic novel now on Amazon!

  • Danielm80

    Brad refuses to shop on Amazon, because it’s named for a tribe of man-hating feminists.

  • BdubIndy

    Ever wonder why women want watches when most stoves have clocks?

  • Bluejay

    It’s because when they’re upending their husbands and stuffing their heads into the oven, sometimes the husbands’ big fat asses block the view of the stove clock. The women would then need an alternate way to time the head-broiling process, so that afterwards they can step out of the house and fix everything the men fucked up.

  • He’s banned.

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