Is there anyone in Hollywood having more fun than Nicolas Cage?
Though Cage is a former Oscar-winner (Leaving Las Vegas) and action hero (The Rock, Face/Off), this current phase of his career has seen him make some seemingly bizarre film choices that range from the horrifying (Mom and Dad) to the strange (Mandy) to the horrifyingly strange (Color Out of Space). In fact, in the last 4 years alone, Cage has released 22different films.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Twenty-two films. In four years.
However, in no way is that to suggest that his movies are lacking in quality. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. In recent years, Cage has embraced the bizarre stories that he produces in such a way that he, arguably, has turned B-movies into an art-form unto themselves. The wilder the film is, the more Cage engages it.
And the audience loves him for it.
With his latest film, Primal, Cage plays Frank Walsh, a big-game hunter who lives in the jungle and specializes in rare species. Having recently caught a rare white jaguar in Brazil, Walsh books passage on a ship in order to sell the beast to a zoo for a large amount of money. Unfortunately, the ship is also being used by US Marshalls to transfer notorious killer Richard Loffler (Kevin Durand) across the ocean to stand trial. When Loffler escapes, he releases the dangerous animals onto the ship as well, turning the journey into a wild game of kill or be killed.
Directed by Nick Powell, Primal is a fun ride that continues Cage’s career trend of choosing projects that never take themselves too seriously. As we’ve seen on multiple occasions, Cage is enthusiastic about the chance to play a hero that borders on the edge of darkness. While he never completely allows himself to free-wheel around on screen with the sort of abandon that we’ve seen in other films, Cage is clearly having a blast as Walsh. As we’ve seen (and, frankly, grown to love about) Cage is his willingness to treat silliness soberly and Primal offers him ample opportunity to immerse himself into the role. (Ironically, however, the person who seems to most relish their place in the film is actually Durand, who brings Cage-style energy to the role of serial killer Loffler, a man charged with ‘crimes against humanity’ and banished to a cage like, well, an animal…)
With this in mind, Primal also wants to be an exploration of what separates man from beast. Mocked and mistreated by the US Marshalls that oversee him, Loffler is viewed as less than human by his captors. As a result, he is treated no better than the legendary white jaguar that Walsh keeps in the ship’s hold. After his escape, he goes on the prowl, prepared to devour anyone who dares stand against him. Vicious and unbalanced, Loffler is a force to be reckoned with… and yet their treatment of him reinforces his animalistic nature.
Conversely, Primal takes the opposite approach with the unkept and unpolished Walsh. As a hunter-for-hire, Walsh thrives in the jungles and (mostly) respects the beasts that he pursues. While he seeks to treats his animals well, Walsh struggles to connect within human relationships. Even so, those around him continuously reinforce the idea that that believe he’s a good man underneath his gruff exterior. As a result, Walsh gradually begins to change his behaviour and look out for the well-being of others. In essence, by juxtaposing Walsh’s redemption with Loffler’s descent, Primalsuggests that what separates man from the rest of the animal kingdom is his ability to recognize the value of human life in others.
Admittedly though, this might be overthinking the film’s intent just a little.
Primal is not a film that’s meant to be dissected or is looking for consideration as an Oscar-darling. Instead, the film is meant to be digested for all its glorious insanity. To its credit, the film embraces the madness and, of course, the key draw to a film like Primal is Cage himself, who does not disappoint.
After all, as the current master of the B-movie, Cage takes films like this seriously so you don’t have to.
Primal is available on VOD on July 28th, 2020 and on Blu-Ray and DVD on August 11th, 2020.