THE LEGEND OF TARZAN
Director: David Yates
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent, Christoph Waltz
I like to throw Tarzan into the same category as say The Mummy and Hercules as age old figures that continually seem to have new adaptations coming to the big screen. We’ve seen Tarzan in animated form thanks to Disney and in live action movies and television shows. Frankly, I’ve never been all that drawn to the character originally created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but here we are with another version to hit the big screen. True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård takes on the title role this time, but he’s not the first character we see on screen. Before he appears, we’re first introduced to Captain Leon Rom, played by Christoph Waltz. He’s the greedy bad guy making shifty deals in the African Congo. It’s the late 1800s and he’s outsourcing diamonds to pay off a massive amount of debt that he’s racked up. A native tribe led by Chief Mbonga (Hounsou) quickly destroys Rom’s army, but Captain Rom promises to bring him the legend and myth that is Tarzan in return for the Chief’s precious diamonds.
Meanwhile back in London, Tarzan is now living the aristocratic life as John Clayton with his wife Jane (Robbie). Long gone are the days of swigging on vines in the jungle with long shaggy dirty hair. He’s been invited by the Prime Minister (Broadbent) to head back to the Congo to serve as a special trade ambassador. He’s thought of as a celebrity in his native land, so it only makes sense that he’s chosen. The always-outgoing Jane desperately wants to go, but he’s leery due to how dangerous and stressful it could be on her. He eventually relents, and while the local citizens and animals greet them warmly, they are unaware of the plot against him by Chief Mbonga and Captain Rom.
What surprises me most is that The Legend of Tarzan wound up being more than just some mindless CGI summer schlock with bad effects. I’ve seen plenty of movies this year (Independence Day Resurgence, X-Men Apocalypse, Alice Through the Looking Glass) that fall into that trap. I am not nearly as familiar with the character as I should be, but I just anticipated Skarsgård and Robbie living in the jungle for a majority of the movie talking to animals. Another audience member told me that the film actually stays fairly true to the Burroughs stories that have come before versus the generic image we have of the “Me Tarzan, you Jane” personality. Screenwriters Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad have added that line in, but with a twist as it’s spoken by Samuel L. Jackson’s character. They created a film where we’re seeing Tarzan as the man living in England after his time in the jungle. They do treat us to his backstory of being taken in by apes, his relationship with the critters, and how he fell in love with Jane, but it’s all done through flashbacks. There’s just enough given to add that context for newbies without it feeling like an origins style movie.
Director David Yates is best known for helming the last four Harry Potter movies. He brings that epic style approach here while keeping an artistic eye to it. There is still that focus on the characters and landscape at hand. Henry Braham’s cinematography is full of sweeping aerial shots of the hot African deserts and jungles giving off that heat and stickiness at hand. This, along with Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score, really makes the African culture come alive. You get the impression that Yates wanted it to feel like it’s another character in the film instead of solely thinking of it as a simple setting. This attention to detail would probably be missing under the guise of another director.
Alexander Skarsgård is arguably best known for playing Viking vampire Eric Northam on True Blood. He’s tackled a variety of movie roles from indies, What Maisie Knew and The Diary of a Teenage Girl, to larger features like Battleship and Zoolander 2. For anyone familiar with True Blood, you know he’s no stranger at appearing nude. His physique alone makes him a valiant candidate to play Tarzan. He’s done a commendable job at bringing those animalistic physicalities into play. Plus, he’s shirtless throughout the whole second half. No loincloth, but he does sport a pair of khaki shorts. He pairs nicely with Margot Robbie as his Jane. With any role she takes, she brings a vitality and zest for life to any of her characters. She brings more to Jane than your standard damsel in distress who just screams in every scene. She gives Skarsgård’s Tarzan something to fight for.
Joining them are Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz. This is their third film together after starring in Quentin Tarantino vehicles Django Unchained and Inglourious Basterds. Both are playing well within their comfort levels here. Jackson is the tough sidekick with a sense of humor slightly taking on more than he can chew. Waltz is once again playing the conniving villain whom you instantly hate. The big difference here is that Jackson still seems to be having fun with his character making subtle choices here and there to make him enjoyable. Waltz, on the other hand, is on pure autopilot. I think I’ve only seen him play villains, and he’s now turning in the same performance with every movie whether it’s the QT movies, Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, or the latest Bond flick, Spectre. It feels extremely lazy coming from a two-time Oscar winning actor that is capable of far more than what he’s putting out.
The Legend of Tarzan is a fun and adventurous film. I wasn’t fully on board at first as the Waltz factor was a big turn off. Once Yates’ vision became more apparent, I grew to appreciate his take on the material. Even the central conflicts feel grounded in state of realism where you fight for the ones you love. It should appeal to a wide audience. I would stay cautious of bringing little kids. While the CGI animals don’t look all that realistic, the growling apes and fights between them and Tarzan could be still be deemed a bit scary for little kids.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Good old-fashion adventurous fun. Nothing more. Nothing less.
RATING: 3 out of 5 TICKET STUBS