Director: David Yates
Cast: Margot Robbie, Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: July 8th
There was a stage in the development of David Yates’ The Legend of Tarzan when reports rolled out that it was to be an interracial buddy chase movie starring Alexander Skarsgard and Samuel L. Jackson. Looked at through an optimistic lense, this could be seen as the most recent Harry Potter director retelling another beloved adventure tale with an exciting setup, situated in a romantic era of history, all the while highlighting the cultural controversies of the time and continents involved.
Optimistic is not the word for what we have here, however.
Rumour has it that, at some point during filming, Yates’ attention turned to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. This may go some way to explaining why, though we didn’t exactly get the buddy movie that was discussed, we didn’t really get anything else either other than an uncertain mish-mash of that and several other ideas.
The plot begins years after Tarzan has met and been introduced to civilisation by Jane, the story sparing the audience yet another origin story (we get bits and pieces through flashbacks), and Tarzan is now living in England, having taken up the name John Clayton III, and his family title of the Lord of Greystoke. Sarsgaard’s wild man walking on his hind legs is one of the best things the film has to offer, and it is perhaps a shame that we may not see more of him based on how the film has been doing financially.
It is Samuel L. Jackson’s civil war veteran doctor then, who convinces him to return to the jungle, in response to an invitation to from the king of Belgium to see the railroad he has built for the country. If this already reads like a more compliated Tarzan story than the ones we are used that’s because it is. And though it is intriguing and admirably ambitious, it ultimately falls short.
Margot Robbie’s Jane is very typically playing the girl who loves the jungle and its natives, to the shock of more civilised society, but it feels as if she does little more than rattle of character tropes, speaking the native language with perhaps too positive a response from the villagers they meet. The scene is endearing, naturally, when she returns to the African village she once befriended, but it is very clearly there to make Jane likable, and it’s been done so many times before that it can feel forced.
A big point in this movie is slavery. The next big crime involved is the CGI. It is, sadly, woeful. All of the animal interactions, some, touching, others excitng, are marred by how poorly they have been visually realise. Tarzan in front of a green screen talking about how big the jungle is should not have any place in a post – Phantom Menace world. The vine swinging and Tarzan-yelling could have been exciting, but the world around it has ultimately let it down.
And then we have Christoph Waltz, reprising his role from all those other films he has made, with a hint of Indiana Jones’ Belloq, and a touch less motivation than before. He is religious this time, which could be an interesting twist particularly with such a talented actor. Maybe it’s the directing that ultimately lets it down.
The buddy movie hasn’t been entirely done away with, either. Instead, it becomes truly apparent about a third of the way in, by way of an oddly adolescent joke, which serves as a preamble to Jackson’s sudden tragic backstory. It is incredibly tacked on.
Hints at a more streamlined film are apparent throughout The Legend of Tarzan. It undeniably hs an impressive cast an some real heart, and to its credit allows itself a bit more time for backstory and taking breaths than other, recent films.
Sadly, though, it teases a good Tarzan film, it is a bit too scattered, and the parts here add up to something lesser than what might have been. Good thing we probably won’t have to wait too long until a new one comes along.