Weekly Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

Nearly a decade after Tarzan left his home in the African jungle to live in Victorian England, the treacherous Leon Rom devises a plan to lure both Tarzan and his wife Jane back into the fray.

Tarzan is a pretty classic character. Most people know who he is, whether they’ve read the stories, seen some of the classic movies, or even watched the Disney version in 1999. When it was announced that a new Tarzan film was being produced, reactions were a bit mixed. Yes, digital effects have improved to possibly aid in telling the story, but how many times can the story really be told?

The Legend of Tarzan realizes this, choosing to tell a story set long after Tarzan first meets Jane. This movie attempts to interweave the Tarzan character with a story of anti-colonialism. In many ways, I thought this movie could have been really great, if done well. Unfortunately, The Legend of Tarzan fights to be memorable, and for many it may lose that battle.

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For this installment, the role of Tarzan (or John Clayton III as he would like to be known) is played by Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood). The role of Jane is played by Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad). The movie also features prominent roles by Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight), Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), and Djimon Hounsou (Guardians of the Galaxy).

With a cast like this, I was pretty excited to give The Legend of Tarzan a try. A good cast, however, does not always make a good movie. With director David Yates at the helm, The Legend of Tarzan still seems to lack a level of energy that it should have. Many of the performances feel underutilized or even awkward. For example, I’m a huge fan of Margot Robbie, yet I didn’t feel convinced of her role as Jane.

Christoph Waltz plays a great villain as always, but I was still hoping for more from him. His role felt like a haphazard rehash of previous roles. It could have been far more compelling. I felt a similar way about Skarsgård as Tarzan. The presence just wasn’t there. On top of that, I didn’t feel much of a chemistry between Tarzan and Jane, and that’s kind of important. There was just something missing throughout the entire movie.

In many ways, I felt that Samuel L. Jackson was the saving grace of the movie for me. While the action wasn’t keeping my attention, Jackson managed to keep me laughing throughout. To me, it felt like his character was a good stand in for the audience with a bit of a modern mindset and his way of poking fun at the events around him. Don’t expect to see the typical Samuel L. Jackson though. His rendition here is rather tame.

It’s really unfortunate because I think that the idea could have been really good. The story could have benefitted from more focus. It felt like it was trying to tell too many stories. Does this movie want to be an origin story or does it want to be set later in the timeline? It’s hard to keep focus on what’s being shown to you because they cut to something else just as it’s getting good.

The end product is just really disappointing. It’s hard not to compare it to The Jungle Book which just had a live action remake recently. Neither the CGI or the action sequences in The Legend of Tarzan can really compare. The animals in this movie lack the personality to make you care about them. It’s too obvious that they’re just CGI. This, paired with the performances of the actors, leaves the audience with a very lackluster product.

Overall, I probably would not recommend The Legend of Tarzan. I was pulled in by the cast of characters, but that wasn’t enough to make me enjoy it. If the studio was intending to start a new franchise with this one, I doubt it succeeded.

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