The Legend of Tarzan
David Yates’ The Legend of Tarzan brings back the most adapted character in history for a new adventure. The twist with this one is that it’s set after the Tarzan stories have already happened so it seems to want to do its own thing. Think Hook but with more Apes.
It’s a good idea. Most people are familiar enough with the Tarzan story to not want or need yet another origin story that explains what amounts to the most simple of establishing stories. The prospect of seeing him up to something removed from what we know is an exciting one.
The film opens with John Clayton aka Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) living a charmed life in England with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). As luck would have it, Tarzan was the heir to an obscene fortune so lives a life that is the complete opposite to what he would have had in the jungle.
Again, it’s an interesting idea but the film does nothing with it. It is instantly established that he has been invited back to Afriica to see what a good job the current ruler is doing in order to endorse it for the British. At least that’s what I think he’s doing, the film is shockingly unclear on this. That really isn’t important though as we are supposed to focus on the fact that he doesn’t want to go back for reasons that are never properly explained. Jane is the opposite and quickly convinces them so off they go.
It turns out that this was all a fiendish plot hatched by Christoph Waltz’ Leon Rom to deliver Tarzan to someone who wants to kill him. If you think it seems like a flimsy plan then you would be absolutely right It makes absolutely no sense and the film makes no attempt to clear any of it up. Basically we need an excuse for Tarzan to return to shirtless swinging through the jungle and this is apparently the best they could come up with.
To make matters worse the narrative is riddled with pointless flashbacks showing how Tarzan and Jane met but there is no conclusion to them nor is there really an organic place for them in the story. They don’t connect to the present in any way other than reminding us that Tarzan used to be a wild man who was at one with nature. Considering this is well established by the film having Tarzan in the title I’m not sure why anyone felt it was necessary.
The plot plays out really predictably. Rom captures Jane and slowly takes her to where Tarzan is supposed to be killed. This gives our hero plenty of time to follow along and use his jungle skills to outwit the villain. Along the way he reconnects and fights with various animals in an effort to pad out the running time.
It’s all very boring and doesn’t ever get to the point where any of it becomes watchable. Some of the set pieces are visually impressive but they are also marred by horribly dated CGI and some really bad editing. It seems that there was a lot of work put into hiding stunt doubles through quick fire cutting. Tarzan’s movements when traversing the jungle never look real either so visually it’s a mixed bag.
Alexander Skarsgård does a capable job in the lead role. He’s certainly up to the physical challenge with his impressive physique and imposing look but the character is so blandly written that it really feels like the writers knew he would be shirtless and therefore gawked at so didn’t bother to flesh him out in any meaningful way. I’m sure Skarsgård is a fine actor but the material he has to work with does him no favours.
Margot Robbie does really well with what she has. Jane is completely put into the damsel in distress role despite constantly insisting that she isn’t a damsel in distress. She conducts herself bravely but spends much of the film waiting for her husband to rescue her. No amount of sassy dialogue can hide that. Despite that, Robbie is great and adds depth to Jane that really isn’t present in the script.
Christoph Waltz does his standard chewing of the scenery but there’s nothing interesting or threatening about his villain even though he was playing a real person who was guilty of so much worse than anything we see here. Still, you get Christoph Waltz and that counts for something.
Samuel L. Jackson is also playing a real person named George Washington Williams and has a blast in the role. Thankfully he accompanies Tarzan on his quest so that some entertainment value can be mined from their interactions. If you laugh at any point then Samuel L. Jackson is likely the cause.
There are hints at a deeper story throughout such as touching on the issue of slavery and the personal issue of Tarzan and Jane losing a child but both of these are mentioned a handful of times without making any significant impact on the story. The whole thing is just a mess from start to finish.
An insufferably bland attempt to modernise Tarzan and tell a new story featuring this character. The actors do a fine job but the writing does them no favours and the story is really dull to the point that it’s impossible to care about what’s going on. Some of the set pieces work well but the film is a complete misfire that should be avoided.
- some of the set piece moments
- Margot Robbie and Samuel L. Jackson’s performances
- the bland and forgettable story
- a weak villain
- almost no character development
- pointless flashbacks