It may surprise you to learn that the denizens of “Europe, 20,000 years ago”—as the prehistoric adventure Alpha situates us—rocked some beautifully tailored fur-lined parkas and cozy boots that look a lot like Uggs. Evidently, facts aren’t terribly important here (even the movie’s title comes from a civilization that’s still millennia away), but if you can get past that, there’s a moderately gripping tale of survival and natural kinship to be had, one in the long-forgotten vein of 1983’s Never Cry Wolf.
Teenage Keda (The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee, maturing into a forceful silent presence) has a stern but loving father to impress: Hunting the Great Beast is a rite of passage that’s arrived for him. But after Keda is flung off a high ledge by a charging buffalo, his tribe assumes the worst. The kid survives the ordeal, though, and, left alone in the wild, comes to befriend a relatively sweet-natured wolf that he muzzles and nurses back to health—a first for interspecies relations, it’s implied.
The film works best during its (too-brief) getting-to-know-you section, which balances humor against snarly danger. Visualized by director Albert Hughes in an impressive large-frame format, Alpha makes the most of gorgeous British Columbia locations when it’s not undercutting them with its slight overuse of CGI. Perhaps the target audience—thoughtful children (and parents who remember being same)—won’t mind the occasional slickness, especially when it comes in the service of a story without superheroes for a change.