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Primal

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Primal Movie Poster Image
Bland execution sinks fun concept in Nic Cage thriller.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 97 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No real messages here; it's just a matter of a slightly-better-than-bad character trying to catch an even worse character.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Frank Walsh is more of an anti-hero; he behaves rather badly throughout the entire movie, but he does have a few moments of kindness toward a child, he shows bravery and persistence in a dangerous situation, and in the end he shows an unexpected gesture of generosity.

Violence

Guns and shooting. Some blood/blood spurts. Fighting, hitting with gun butts. Fighting with knives. Characters die/dead bodies. Child in peril. Neck-breaking. Stabbing. Strangling. Biting. Choking. Tranquilizer darts. Animals attack humans; animal eats a human in one scene. Characters tied up, held prisoner. Animal corpse used as bait. Human shoots at birds.

Sex
Language

Constant strong language includes "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "a--hole," "son of a bitch," "ass," "goddamn," "damn," "hell," "prick," "retard," "scumbag," "moron," and "oh my God." Use of "Jesus f---ing Christ." Middle-finger gesture.

Consumerism

Coca-Cola shown and mentioned by name more than once.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Main character gets very drunk in one scene. Drinking from flask. Social drinking. Cigar-smoking. Empty booze bottles.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Primal is an action thriller starring Nicolas Cage that's set on a ship overrun by an escaped killer and wild animals. Things get pretty violent: Expect guns and shooting, fighting, stabbing, choking, neck-breaking, knives, tranquilizer darts, and a child in peril. Animals attack humans (eating a human in one scene), and humans shoot at animals. Language is extremely strong/constant and includes "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "a--hole," and many more. There's social drinking, and the main character gets slurring drunk in one scene. He also smokes cigars.

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What's the story?

In PRIMAL, big-game hunter Frank Walsh (Nicolas Cage) captures an incredibly rare white jaguar. He boards a ship with his bounty and several other animals, ready to sell to the highest bidder. Unfortunately, as a last-ditch solution, the ship is also being used to transport political assassin Richard Loffler (Kevin Durand) back to the United States for trial. Loffler soon escapes and then frees all the animals, including venomous snakes, dangerous monkeys, and even the jaguar. Now, with the aid of Dr. Ellen Taylor (Famke Janssen), Frank must prowl the ship's labyrinthian corridors, rescue his animals, and catch a killer.

Is it any good?

This thriller has a fun premise, but it feels both too lazy and too serious; rather than really playing with the concept, the film does little more than let loose cannon Cage carry the load. Primal has all the elements for a cool movie: various exotic animals, a clever killer, a scoundrel-like anti-hero, and an appealing leading lady, all trapped together in a perfect, enclosed setting. If a filmmaker had approached it with a sly, coy touch or a sharper sense of rhythm, it could have been wildly entertaining. But director Nick Powell -- a former stuntman with one other movie, the atrocious, sluggish Outcast, on his resume -- doesn't do that.

The movie starts with Cage dialed all the way up to 11; he's so amped up that he doesn't even seem to be in the same room with the other actors. His special brand of quirkiness can often save a movie, but it has to be used correctly, and in Primal, it's not. Then, the jittery, twitchy filmmaking manages to deaden any sense of rhythm or suspense. And poor Janssen doesn't have much more to do than get kidnapped and tied up. At least Durand seems to be having fun, sneering and bluffing his way through his villainous role. And there are some wonderful animals to look at. But overall, Primal is a wasted opportunity.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Primal's violence. How did it make you feel? Is it shocking or thrilling? How did the filmmakers achieve this effect? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • What is the movie's attitude toward animals? Are animals respected? Should wild animals be captured for humans' appreciation?

  • How is drinking depicted? Is it glamorized? Are there consequences? Why does that matter?

  • What is an anti-hero? Does Frank Walsh qualify as one? Is he likable despite his bad behavior?

Movie details

For kids who love action and thrills

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