The Legend of Tarzan Review
NOT QUITE THE RETURN OF THE KING
Tarzan. Every knows the name. Over the years, the premise for Tarzan has been iconic as the name itself; a feral child that’s raised in the jungles of Africa by the Mangani Apes, who then later joins civilization, but only to be rejected by society and returns to the native jungle homeland as a heroic adventurer. Created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the character of Tarzan (or rather John Clayton, Viscount Greystroke) first appeared in “Tarzan and the Apes”, which was published back in 1914. The book became just a popular hit that Burroughs continue writing novels for Tarzan, with over twenty-five sequels written. Within time, the character of Tarzan could leap off the pages of Burroughs’s work and be featured in several media outlets, including animated cartoons, theatrical films, radio programs, unauthorized novels and comics, stage productions, video games, and action figures. Now Warner Bros. and director David Yates return to Burroughs’s timeless character for another adventure in the movie The Legend of Tarzan. Does this latest Tarzan romp reign as “king of the jungle” or has the time come and gone for the “Lord of the Apes”?
During the time of the colonization of the African Congo, the King of Belgium empties his fortune into the region, hoping to tap into its enormous reserve of diamonds. Captain Rom (Christoph Waltz), a ruthless businessman, is sent to negotiate with the native tribes, making a pact with Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) to return Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) to the jungle region for a fight to the death. Living life as a gentleman in society, Tarzan has married his beloved Jane (Margot Robbie) and keeps advisor George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) close, trying to keep feral side in check. When Rom eventually strikes, he kidnaps Jane, triggering Tarzan to return to his original form, partnering with Williams as they enter an African jungle that’s populated with animals and physicals trails, with the infamous “Lord of the Apes” reacquainting himself with the land and his inhabitants as he purses Rom to retrieve Jane.
I actually have never read Edgar Rice Burroughs’s work on Tarzan. Like many, I grew accustomed to the legendary “Lord of the Apes” from various other media facets (cartoons, movies, children’s stories, etc.). So I grew familiar with Tarzan, Jane and their various misadventure within the African wilderness. Since I got to the movies a lot, I always see a lot of the same movie trailers (a sort of cycle of popular ones that are coming out that are either “hot” or “big” in its inherit hype. Thus, The Legend of Tarzan fell into the category as I always saw the trailers (both the teaser and theatrical trailer) constantly and I fell in love with them (still do). Because of that, I was actually really eager to see the film in theaters. What did I think of it? Well, let’s say that was disappointed as The Legend of Tarzan has the scope of an epic movie, but fails to deliver an engaging overall story.
The Legend of Tarzan is directed by David Yates, who is mostly known for directing the past three Harry Potter films (four if you include the Part 1 and Part 2 of Deathly Hallows). Interestingly, Yates utilizes The Legend of Tarzan with a very pronounce historical event that occurred during this timeframe. The Belgum Congo Genocide was a very horrific event that took place during this time, subjecting the Congo River Basin (under King Leopold II’s rule). This time period in the Congo (redubbed “The Congo Free State”) was known for its brutal exploitation of its indigenous inhabitants that were put into slavery and / or killed, with Leopold II main desire to harvest much of the wealth and natural resources of the African land. Sorry for the history lesson. Why is this important? It’s because this is when The Legend of Tarzan takes place, even using two historical figures as the main principal cast (George Washington Williams and Leon Rom). In the true spirit of epic movies, The Legend of Tarzan feels vast and its scope is grandiose. Cinematographer Henry Braham does truly capture some great “cinematic” shots with the Congo jungle and within its mist-layered mysteries. Lastly, the musical score for the feature, composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams, is pretty good, creating some musical flourish of intension, drama, and sympathy, while also playing some melodies of African influences.
Unfortunately, while the scope and scale are dully noted in the movie, The Legend of Tarzan can’t escape from being boring and bland. Why do I say this? Well, as I said above, the movie incorporates historical backdrop to the feature (which is a good thing). Unfortunately, Yates and his team doesn’t fully capture the forward momentum to bring that “historical setting” to the foreground of the film. It’s there, but lingers and feels like an afterthought, regardless of how poignant it is the vastness of Africa’s history. Next, despite using historical events to try to engage viewers, The Legend of Tarzan is a straight-forward narrative and it’s pretty much what you would expect to see. Thus, it the feature feels very predictable, almost to the point of being formulaic to a commonplace sweeping epic. Even plot beats and their points felt very familiar like it was retread from other movies that have come before this movie. Basically, I knew what was coming and what was going to happen by the film’s third act. Even the final confrontation in the third act was pretty standard and boring.
Perhaps the big problem I have with The Legend of Tarzan is that its presented as a sequel movie. Yes, I know that vaguely from the trailers and I know that Burroughs created many sequel stories to the “Lord of the Apes”, but Yate’s take on Tarzan feels bland. In truth, I rather have seeing an origin story (i.e. the first meeting of Tarzan and Jane and the adventure that surrounds that event). Yes, The Legend of Tarzan does showcase that “first encounter”, but it’s merely glimpses of it (and I wanted more). Plus, Yates throws this whole revenge plot with the character of the African Chief Mbongo, which really doesn’t pan out and feels over before it really begins to take ahold in the film’s main narrative. Even Samuel L. Jackson’s character seems pointless, who is merely there to create chuckles with his charisma and acts a “buddy” to Tarzan. As for Tarzan, his path in the movie is (again) straight-forward, meandering through his return to the jungle and (again) feels very standard for a “hero” that’s return home to his roots. I mean it takes him halfway movie before becomes the man he wants was (i.e. swinging from the vines and shirtless). All of this culminates in the fact that The Legend of Tarzan feels like a “paint-by-numbers” movie and doesn’t rise to the occasion, getting lost within its own jungle.
The cast in The Legend of Tarzan is good one, boasting many recognizable names and faces in the principle grouping. Unfortunately, the characters themselves are very “blah”. If Yates and his team did anything right is they got the right actor to play the main protagonist, casting Alexander Skarsgard as Tarzan / John Clayton. Skarsgard, known for his role in HBO’s True Blood, has the right muscular physique for the iconic role and (much like the character) is a man of few words, which is good as Skarsgard doesn’t overact and plays the dialogue in his quiet and subtle tone of voice. In short, Skarsgard’s Tarzan let his physical body do the talking rather than overdeveloping scenes with heavy character dialogue. To me, he was a good fit for the role.
As a side note, the visual effects are pretty good, especially with the apes in the movie. I didn’t expect them to be “super ultra-awesome” like something from new Planet of the Apes movies (Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), but they get the job done and feel practical as Mangani Apes.
Of course, it won’t be a Tarzan movie without having the character of Jane Porter in it and The Legend of Tarzan has the beautiful and upcoming actress Margot Robbie as the “Lord of the Apes” lover. While Robbie acting is good, showing spunk, a strong-will, and overall feistiness to Jane, the character is generally flat, acting nothing more than a DID (Damsel-in Distress) for most of the feature. Thus, beyond her physical look (you can tell that I like her), Robbie’s Jane is not a memorable one. Again, if the movie was set in the original timeframe (the first encounter between Tarzana and Jane), then there could’ve been more to hear character. Sadly, there’s isn’t. As for the movie’s main antagonist Leon Rom, actor Christoph Waltz plays it with satisfactory efforts. Waltz, who has grown accustomed to playing the villain in many feature films, does what he does best, portraying both slimy and blithe villainy, but it just doesn’t leave lasting impression. To me, even with all his movies he’s done in the previous years, Waltz’s best performance is still in Inglorious Basterds. His portrayal of Leon Rom, even though its real historical figure, is a shell of bad guy compared to his role as Col. Hans Landa.
In more supporting roles, Samuel L. Jackson role is a “likeable” George Washington Williams (another historical figure). Jackson’s overall charismatics helps the character in the film as Tarzan’s somewhat sidekick, even though he gets push to aside at various points. His screen-time with Skarsgard is good as the two banter here and there and (overall) it works well. Lastly, actor Djimon Hounsou contributes a solid performance as the ruthless leader Chief Mbongo, but, much like the rest of his cast members, doesn’t have enough screen-time to make a well-rounded impression for his on-screen character. In reality, his character is more of a plot device (getting Tarzan back to the Congo Jungle) and pretty much nothing else.
Swinging from the trees once again, the “Lord of the Apes” returns to his jungle home in The Legend of Tarzan. Director David Yates’s newest film serves as an expensive tent-pole to the iconic character that Burroughs created. The movie is vast and the scope is palpable with a historical backdrop setting, but the film is overstuffed and too bland to discern itself from others that have come before it. To me, I was actually disappointed with the movie. Yes, it was somewhat entertaining (as a whole) and the story was vaguely interesting, I just wasn’t impress with the feature. Plain and simple. Personally, I would say just wait for it to come out on home release or digital download as a rental (it’s not worth seeing in theaters). Better yet…just watch one of the older version of Tarzan (either the Disney’s 1999 Tarzan or even 1984’s Greystroke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes). In truth, there’s a good Tarzan movie within The Legend of Tarzan (somewhere), it just hard to find within its own cinematic African Congo jungle.
2.7 Out of 5 (Rent It / Skip It)
Released On: July 1st, 2016
Reviewed On: July 4th, 2016
The Legend of Tarzan is rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, some sensuality and brief rude language