Nicolas Cage is the gift that keeps on giving. After throwing himself into debt with some larger than life purchases, including buying a freaking castle, the man has been accepting any role tossed at him left and right in order to make all of his lost money back. Sometimes it works, like in the absolutely metal Mandy, other times you get Army of One. But there was just something so quintessentially Cage about Primal.
The actual, real premise of this very real movie is thus; Nic Cage is a big game hunter trapped on a ship with an assassin that lets out a horde of deadly jungle animals to kill Cage. That is the most typical plot to a Nic Cage movie and it’s a clear winner on concept alone. It’s just a shame that the hook was masking a generic, by the numbers action movie.
Director: Nick Powell
Release Date: November 8, 2019 (VOD)
As an actor, Nic Cage is a bizarre specimen. The man has become a joke, but in the most polite way possible. There are some people, myself included, who will flock to the latest Nic Cage movie solely because of the man’s unique approach to acting. Regardless of the movie he’s in, Cage will almost always be one of the most talked about parts of the movie, even if it’s bad. Case in point, we all know The Wicker Man is an awful, awful movie, but it became legendary due to Cage’s role in it. It’s almost worth seeing because of his performance along. That is the power of the Cage.
But what about Primal? Where does it rank on the Nicolas Cage oeuvre? The movie stars Nic Cage as the surly Frank Walsh, who spends most of the movie hunting a white jaguar not just in the jungles of Brazil, but on a freighter with the manic assassin Richard Loffler (Kevin Durand) trying to escape and kill his pursuers. At times it feels like Durand is trying to outclass Cage on the crazy scale, which he often does. Durand feels like a caricature of what a Nic Cage character should be while Cage comes across much more as a gruff and grumpy old man. He’s curt with everyone he meets, openly says how much he hates people, and you better believe that everything he does is all kinds of illegal. Yet even if Cage isn’t in his larger than life persona, he still delivers and enjoyable a fun performance amongst a deathly serious supporting cast.
It’s just plain fun watching Cage just not give a single damn while he’s on screen, yet there’s a main plot here that tries its damndest to side him at every point. The U.S. government is brought in to try and capture the Loffler, there’s a lot of twists and political allegiances being tested, but I kept on siding with Cage most of the time where he couldn’t give a crap about what was happening. He just wanted to take care of his animals. He doesn’t give a damn about the lies and deceit going on around him, he just wants to do his job and get out of there.
As goofy as those animals are, like monkeys that rip a person’s face off, or a parrot that follows Cage at every turn, it felt like Primal almost successfully pulled a bait and switch on me. It used the promise of exotic animal violence to disguise a by the numbers action thriller. While the boat setting does spice up the proceedings with claustrophobic environments, they’re never put to any good use. Occasionally we’ll see an animal wander the halls of the ship, like the ridiculous CG white jaguar, complete with first person jaguar vision, but they barely factor in to the proceedings. When audiences go to see a movie called Primal, they don’t want to see a by the books action movie. They want to see vicious animals kill people in fantastic ways.
Thankfully Cage’s performance does carry the movie, but without him this would have been just another bland and forgettable VOD action flick. It’s amazing how Cage can elevate such mediocre material by his presence, but that’s only a testament to the man’s acting capabilities. If you wanted Primal to be a movie where you see Nic Cage punch a PS2 era jaguar you’ll get it, but that ridiculous tone will only account for about 10% of the movie. The other 90% is okay, but not up to the standard of previous Cage experiences.