The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

Genre: Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: July 1st, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: David Yates Actors: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent

 


 

I

n 1884, the African Congo was divided up by its European conquerors, with King Leopold gaining control of enough territory to build a vast realm of railroads and enslavement. To pay off his debts and to buy up mercenaries for his army (the Force Publique), he sends envoy Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) on a quest to retrieve the valuable diamonds of Opar. But they’re heavily guarded by a vengeful warlord called Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), who wants Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) to pay for the killing of his son.

But Tarzan is no longer the wild man from the jungle, raised by apes. He’s now the civilized John Clayton, the Lord of Greystoke, living in an enormous mansion with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). Something of a celebrity, he’s lured back to the Congo (though reluctantly, because “it’s hot”) by American marksman Dr. George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) as a means to identify the possibility of ongoing slavery by the Belgian King. But as soon as Tarzan arrives back to his home, he’s targeted by Rom’s cutthroat crew, who successfully capture Jane, forcing the Lord of the Apes to launch a daring rescue mission through treacherous jungles and upriver to a stronghold in Boma.

The opening scene features a slow-motion ambush, with spring-loaded warriors lunging out of murky waters to attack Rom’s soldiers. Fortunately, for the sake of setting up the plot, everyone speaks English. But the visuals are the immediate problem, not only lending to a lack of realism, but also to a forced ostentation, wherein camera tricks and thundering music attempt to camouflage the silliness of the action or the inattention to physics. Like so many CG-heavy adventure epics, gravity is ignored in the hope that superhuman strength and agility will be more impressive than believability. But don’t audiences require more and more realism in their fantasy pieces these days? If not, then why all the death and destruction and cruelty toward gorillas?

Apparently, despite holding records for being the most filmed character in cinema, Tarzan’s story isn’t popular enough to dispense with dreadful, brooding flashbacks, which cut in from time to time to familiarize viewers with his childhood among the creatures of the jungle and his romancing of Jane (who also has some oddly placed – but always fond – memories of meeting her future husband). Many of these sequences feature Tarzan swinging through the trees, which presents another tremendous downfall to this version’s presentation of the legendary persona. His computer-animated movements are phony at best, and his interactions with the apes shift between moderately convincing and downright laughable. With so many other movies highlighting the advancements in technology, particularly with gorillian characters (including “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” [2014] and “The Jungle Book” [2016]), it’s becoming obvious when a new project doesn’t have state-of-the-art effects at its disposal. Here, a number of animals can’t quite live up to previous CG iterations, including a climactic buffalo stampede and a swarm of angry ostriches. Thankfully, the creatures don’t talk!

But supplementary visuals of any caliber can’t save a deficiency in storytelling or scripting, and “The Legend of Tarzan” has an abundance of such faults. The dialogue is routinely, painfully generic, which carries over into the casting. Waltz (though always watchable) really shouldn’t continue to play villains, especially when he’s typecast as that smarmy, cocky, calmly formidable schemer with an unshakeable accent. And Jackson has little reason to appear in the film, save for comic relief, a few funny glances, and repetitious, anachronistic comments about ape testicles. But worst of all is the project’s attempt to tell a slightly different Tarzan tale, while still retreading the same damsel-in-distress scenarios and the same overthrowing of corrupt, slave-trading, evil colonial white men themes. At least several of the widescreen shots are interesting, though much of this film seems like an excuse for Skarsgard to run around shirtless in humid environments.

– Mike Massie

  • 3/10