I’ve always been fascinated by the Tarzan mythology. It took a long time before I got the opportunity of reading any of the original books, but there have been tons of adaptations, reinventions, and spoofs of it – from comics to radio to TV to film – I’ve been able to encounter, making it very much familiar to me. There’s the classic 60’s show starring Ron Ely. And there’s, of course, the Disney animated movie. Heck, the cheap, cheesy 90’s Tarzan flick starring Casper Van Dien is even one of the Tarzan films I’ve seen (which I actually saw in a theater). So, yeah, I think Tarzan is pretty neat.
In general, I never really had a problem that a new Tarzan movie had been set for 2016. In fact, there’s a part of me that was excited for The Legend of Tarzan. After all, this is a character and mythology that I’m fond of, and I was hoping it could be the definitive Tarzan film for 21st century audiences.
The Legend of Tarzan follows Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) – who now goes by his original christened name, John Clayton III – some years after leaving the African jungle he grew up in to settle in Victorian England with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) and live as Lord Greystoke. John has no intention of returning to Africa anytime soon, but he is lured back to it by Captain Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz), the treacherous envoy of King Leopold of Belgium to Congo, who intends to deliver him to Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), an old foe keen on revenge. In return, Rom will receive the diamonds he needs to fund an army of mercenaries that will allow him to further enslave and exploit the region. Now, it’s up to Tarzan, with the aid of an American envoy investigating the matter named George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), to save the day.
There are parts of the story which I enjoyed. It has some fresh, endearing ideas, and I liked how it told Tarzan’s origin story in flashbacks instead of completely retelling it. However, the narrative in general is cliched and made worse by dull pacing. It fails to thoroughly tap into the awe-inspiring elements of its luscious African setting, though it shows glimpses on what could have been accomplished. There are moments of fun and thrills, but the bad pacing made them few and far between. In the end, the movie is an unexciting by-the-numbers saving-the-damsel revenge story.
The cast delivered competent and committed performances – probably the most notable positive of this movie. But the script is unable to make well-realized characters from out of them.
Alexander Skarsgård embodies what is expected from a character like Tarzan, but there are no striking or substantial qualities in him that can distinguish him from other Tarzans. Given that his version is an educated Tarzan, but I’ve seen educated Tarzans before.
Margot Robbie is Margot Robbie. Her natural screen charisma easily improves any movie she’s in. But there’s nothing more notable about her character than being a damsel-in-distress – though I like the way how her character is self aware of her status.
It’s expected for someone like Christoph Waltz to do a solid job playing a villain. And he does so in this movie as well. I particularly like his character’s unique weapon of choice. However, just like his role in last year’s Spectre, the writing doesn’t provide enough remarkable facets to make his character elevate above being a generic, mustached villain.
And last but not the least, Samuel L. Jackson’s character is a likable supporting presence. In fact, his character probably has the most personality and substance in the movie – but not outstandingly much.
The Legend of Tarzan isn’t a completely boring movie. It delivers a few spectacles and satisfaction, but it obviously lacks the well-written script and engaging pacing to sustain an entertaining experience. I overall found the entire movie disappointingly falling short of making, retaining, and leaving that certain sense of wonder that is quintessential to a mythology like Tarzan’s.
It unfortunately can’t replicate the heights that The Jungle Book – a movie that is somewhat similar in premise – has succeeded reaching earlier this year.