Once Keda and Alpha get down to the business of being friends (which, if the marketing is to be believed, is this movie’s sole reason for existing) it loses a lot of its originality and devolves into another boy-meets-wolf-then-eventually-is-allowed-to-pet-wolf-then-becomes-bffs-with-wolf story.
While it’s impossible to say exactly how man came to domesticate wolves or early canines, Alpha makes it seem a little too easy. In that sense, it drops the ball for anyone looking for something remotely anthropological in how Alpha and Keda’s relationship develops. It’s clear the film is far more interested in the emotional payoff of the relationship rather than how it was forged. But at the end of the day, that's not a terrible thing -- if you like dogs, you will 100% adore this movie.
The reason the film spends so much time with Keda and Alpha hunting together and playing together and saving each other is because it’s very adorable, if not downright sweet to watch. Sure, it’s shamelessly indulgent every time Alpha growls for food then whines when Keda refuses, but boy howdy, is it cute. When Keda gets trapped under some ice and Alpha jumps up and down helplessly in an attempt to free him, your heart will break into a million little pieces. And when Alpha waits until Keda’s asleep to snuggle his stubborn ass so he won’t freeze to death at night, you will probably cry even if you are the world’s biggest cat person.
A lot of the credit for these scenes working as opposed to inducing eyerolls goes to Kodi Smit-McPhee (X-Men Apocalypse, Slow West). As Keda, his innocence in the face of the genuinely terrifying journey ahead of him endears him to us from minute one, and it’s a pleasure to watch him grow up before our eyes as he overcomes adversity after adversity. Alpha's essentially a coming-of-age film for both wolf and man, and the fact that it doesn’t aspire to anything deeper shouldn’t be a turn-off. It makes a for a refreshingly understated family film in comparison to the Pixar movies and broad comedies that seem to have overtaken the genre, and its PG-13 rating ensures a lack of gratuitous violence and nudity (enter anachronistic loin cloths).
Bottom line: if you want to dislike this movie, you could probably find a reason, but watching Alpha lick Keda’s face for the first time will make you wonder why you’re looking for one.
Alpha opens nationwide on August 17.