By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review swiftly follows our most successful interview of all time. I say this because today’s review is of the mammoth Disney epic, The Legend Of Tarzan.
We interviewed the central protagonists on Friday; you can read about our chat here, just before visiting the cinema to catch the blockbuster later that evening.
Margot Robbie and Alexander Skarsgard were entertaining and intriguing; I just hoped the film followed suit…
It's been eight years since John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgard) was known as Tarzan. He's been living in England for the last decade as Lord Greystoke, with his loving wife, Jane (Margot Robbie). After all this time, he's lured back to the jungle as part of a plot by the shady right-hand man to King Leopold, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), and to find out whether the rumours of slavery in the Congo are true. Along the way, Jane is taken hostage and so Tarzan must ‘come out of retirement’ and do everything he can to save her.
We meet the four main characters early on and we briefly see into their past and also shown what they want to gain. We have Tarzan who is reluctant to go back to Congo, we have Jane who is less reluctant as she is desperate to be corset-free for a while, and we have George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) with his personal ambitions and finally Leon Rom (Waltz) who attacks a local village to trap Tarzan and Jane so one of Tarzan’s enemies can finally kill him.
With that premise, it reads like we have another standard fairy-tale story but ‘TLOT’ is a little different to its credit. There are two elements to The Legend of Tarzan that make David Yates’ version more interesting than previous adaptations. One of those elements is the character of Jane and the other is Yates’ take on a different part of Tarzan’s life.
“Africa’s favourite son” is surprisingly limited here; he doesn’t say a lot and is used in a way that allows other actors around him to flourish. Tarzan is of course strong and masculine but he’s painfully quiet throughout. Skarsgard plays this role perfectly fine but it’s an unusual tactic for Yates to deploy. By doing this, the movie positions Jane as a strong and independent heroine who is certainly not your usual helpless damsel. This film is nearly as much about her as is the ape-man.
Furthermore, by choosing to jump into Tarzan’s life at a late stage in the tale, Yates’ will come under scrutiny. This method poses the question ‘is there is enough groundwork done to warrant, well near enough, skipping a film?’ In my opinion, the foundations aren’t strong enough for this. Without an origin movie before it, we have to rely heavily on flashbacks that occur too often leaving the film too disjointed. This loses momentum in pivotal scenes also leaves key characters underdeveloped.
There isn’t really enough time to get to know the supporting cast. Christoph Waltz has very few scenes to strike up an image for the audience to hate. To be fair, yet again he delivers a great villainous performance like Christoph always does, but if we had enough time to learn his backstory; we would be more intrigued and invested. The same can be said for Tarzan’s ‘arch-nemesis’ Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) who we see at the very start ordering Waltz to bring Tarzan to him (we don’t know why) and it’s only 20 minutes before the end that we are told what for. His character and relationship with Tarzan is wasted. The final confrontation between the two is therefore barely meaningful to us.
With very few action sequences and limited banter between Tarzan and his companion George (his ‘comic’ side-kick), it doesn’t leave much to be entertained by. All said and done, this is more of a children’s story yet there seems to be very little aimed at them. Its primary issues are slave labour and how humans are destroying the planet. I mean, it’s great to teach the youth of tomorrow these issues but give them something to enjoy too. I've seen it mentioned a few times but the film really does feel like a limp Batman tribute set in a jungle.
The Legend of Tarzan is so frustrating because there is a backbone to a great movie here. There’s a talented cast, great core characters and a director that knows CGI and action pieces like the back of his hand. When David Yates releases his talent over the final 15 minutes, we get an incredible piece of cinema with a stampede crushing through a built up village. It’s visually pleasing and exciting – but where is this throughout? Even the fight scenes are lacklustre.
That said, it does offer a different take on Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic story. There’s greater projection on issues like the local tribal community, their points of view and nature - Tarzan isn't just saving them, he's helping them. And like Tarzan, Jane is mirroring his actions. This film is entertaining but just irritating. If it was slightly more refined and had a bit more action, I’d be reviewing one of the blockbusters of the summer.
Cineroom’s Rating: 3 Stars
The Legend of Tarzan is currently showing worldwide in selected cinemas – certificate 12A