Friday, July 1, 2016


Since 1918, Tarzan has been a character well-suited for the big-screen. Start with a young boy raised by apes who grows to be the king of the jungle, throw in a love-interest named Jane and a mustache-twirling villain, and you’ve got the makings of high adventure right away. For director David Yates, such simplicity just isn’t good enough for the latest vine-swinging adventure in the form of THE LEGEND OF TARZAN.

Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard), now known as his birth name of John Clayton III, has left life in the jungle for a life of domestication with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie), but is coaxed back into the wild by civil rights activist George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), who suspects some foul play in the country of Africa. But the trip is being orchestrated by the corrupt Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), who is looking to capture Tarzan and turn him over to hostile natives to gain the rights to diamonds.

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is a film which is burdened with a convoluted plot which didn’t need to be as thick as the baddest bush in the jungle. There’s a lot of talk-talk-talk about civil rights, diamonds, a secret army, and a King who has defaulted on his loans. Things pick up when Leon Rom fails to capture Tarzan and settles on Jane instead, which leads to Tarzan rampaging through the wild to catch them. On paper there’s enough there to sustain the film, but the adventure has no momentum as things have to stop every now and then to talk about all the politics involved, and the stakes involved are never really made clear which gives the whole thing a “who cares” vibe.

Director David Yates adds to the blandness by doing nothing with his characters. Tarzan has little to achieve other than chasing Jane and punching apes, and the character finishes the film in the same state of mind as when he started…and the big guy seems to have zero issues with transitioning from the domestic life back to the jungle. Jane is treated even worse as just a plain-old damsel in distress, and George Washington Williams, who is based on a true character from the American Civil War who fought to abolish slavery, feels like he would add some serious-issue angles to the film but winds up as nothing more than a sidekick-buffoon stumbling through the jungle. To top it off, Leon Rom is driven by nothing more than greed. Snore.

As a character who communicates with animals, Tarzan can be a high-concept to buy into. Certain touches work, but the CGI work done on the animals only works part of the time…which has us watching Tarzan fight and cuddle with unrealistic-looking blobs on the screen and the artificial jungle environments are stunning in some places and very fake in others. Rupert Gregson-Williams contributes a very good score, and cinematographer Henry Braham films some great-looking scenes which don’t involve fake apes and bugs.

The goddamn 3D is shit.

Acting is an odd mix. Alexander Skargsgard looks like a great Tarzan (he looks amazingly like the Disney version), and has a great presence on screen. He’s given minimal dialogue to work with, which seems fitting for a character raised by apes but takes away opportunities for him to truly act. Margot Robbie shows a lot of fire and spirit when she’s not tied down to something, and Samuel L. Jackson just plays Samuel L. Jackson. Christoph Waltz plays the exact same character he’s played in his last 13 movies (yawn). Djimon Housou, who appears as a tribal chief, is terrific as he always is.

The finale includes a big battle (groan) on a ship complete with a big explosion and a machine gun (double-groan), and with whatever everyone was fighting over never really clear, all the noise means very little. By movie’s end there’s also the realization that Tarzan never spends a lot of time in jungle doing Tarzan-things, and instead spends the movie in houses, trains, and boats. THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is a failure to grasp the simplest of characters and simplest of concepts, and provides nothing that the audience would want to see. This is an adventure that never should have left the house.


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