It’s a brave new world for Tarzan. No longer is he facing real-life, full-size apes, or leopards, or any other animal. Nor humans in ape costumes. Rather, Tarzan now interacts with a litany of CGI creations in a CGI environment. The green screen hijinks leave viewers with a lack of immersion, but what the movie really needs is a character to get invested in and an adventure worth taking. David Yates’s THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is by-the-numbers in every way. Watching shaky cam footage of safaris on Youtube will bring more excitement to viewers than this iteration of the Lord of the Apes.
We begin with several pages of text to get us caught up in the affairs we’re joining. Belgium and Great Britain have divided up the African Congo, and Belgium is going bankrupt and needs money. Enter Leon Rom, played by Christoph Waltz, who seems cursed to play only villainous characters after Inglorious Basterds. Leon, in his crisp white suit, has found a tribe of Africans sitting on piles of diamonds. To get the diamonds, Leon must bring Tarzan to the chief. Only problem is, Tarzan has adjusted to civilized life in London as a fancy pants aristocrat.
Alexander Skarsgard is the man playing the Lord of apes this time around, and he brings a controlled demeanor to his Tarzan, a man in control of his emotions and repressing his animal upbringing. He also speaks complete sentences throughout the film. No “Me Tarzan, you Jane” in this iteration, although the line does make an appearance. After sitting in a meeting of old dudes attempting to convince Tarzan, living now as John Clayton III, to journey to the Congo as a diplomat, Tarzan leaves the room to continue living with his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie).
However, an American seeking to find out the truth about possible slavery occurring in Africa manages to convince John Clayton to return to the jungle. This man is George Washington Williams, and is played by Samuel L. Jackson, the only actor who seems to be having any fun in the movie. And make no mistake, this is the kind of movie that really shouldn’t be taking itself so seriously. When it comes down to it, Tarzan involves a shirtless man swinging around on vines yodeling. Jackson manages to bring a few moments of levity, calling out the ridiculousness of Tarzan speaking to apes or jumping off multiple cliffs without looking, but they’re fleeting and inconsequential at best. The Legend of Tarzan aims to keep most of its tone serious and in the realm of reality, and that approach manages to make most of the movie a drag to sit through.
Not only the tone, but the plot itself contributes to the tedium of the film. There’s never any tension for any characters, or in any scene. The film rarely takes risks, and even when it does, the outcome of any plot point can be seen coming a mile away. In particular, certain characters get captured and it’s clear they’ll be rescued. Fights and battle outcomes can be called before they begin. One area of surprise is how convenient the film makes certain plot points. For an area as large as the Congo, everyone always seems to be a quick jog from each other. In one egregious instance, Tarzan jumps a great height, swings on multiple vines to get to one place, and less than five minutes later Jackson’s character arrives on scene.
There are a few rousing sequences. A train hijacking and stampede are among the more exciting moments of the movie. But these scenes are islands in a sea of dull. The Legend of Tarzan is a movie of missteps. It’s the same story we know when it should be one that goes somewhere new. It takes itself too seriously when it should be having fun. The action and adventure should thrill instead of bore. And finally, the animals and environment should feel real instead of digital and fake.
I give The Legend of Tarzan 2 blind cliff dives out of 5
Runtime: 110 minutes
Wil Loper | Contributor