–The Legend of Tarzan is a boring, misguided, mindless slog focusing on the single most boring lead performance in modern history.
Tarzan is a rare character where an origin story would actually be appreciated. For such an interesting character based on the old serials and novels from Edgar Rice Borroughs, a face lift for a modern generation would’ve been very nice. Sadly, what occurs instead is more of an action drama that is intent on proving a political position (to be discussed later) mixed with the occasional CGI based brawl with animals involved, stripping all of the charisma from Tarzan and his associative universe.
In this installment, we’re introduced to Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) some period of time after he was the screaming, tree-swinging, feral-child turned ape-man. He’s met Jane (Margot Robbie), and joined regular human society over in England, conditioning himself to take over his parents’ old responsibilities and his namesake as John Clayton III. Tarzan, Jane, and civil war veteran George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) who is stationed in Britain are sent back to the forest in Congo when a territory war begins between England and the slaver country of Belgium, led by King Leopold.
Leopold (who we never actually meet) has sent a diplomat named Rom (Christoph Waltz) to retrieve a group of very rare diamonds that are in the Congo and check out the slaving possibilities. After negotiating a deal with Chief Mbongo (Djimon Hounsou), they agree to exchange Tarzan’s head for the diamonds after the Chief has a serious beef with our Ape-like hero.
Regardless of what the film’s political/historical message is, this film is not even remotely exciting, rendered, or well-performed. There are good actors here, but they all are wasted in this super dark, self-serious plot. Side characters like Jim Broadbent’s Prime Minister or Jackson’s George Williams are the rare bright spots, because those two actors don’t mind hamming it up for the subject matter. Watching an older Jackson chase through the forest after Tarzan, swearing and complaining, was funny and the rare bright spot in this endless slog. Even these scenes, however, come with a price because they clash against the aforementioned serious tone of the film. The main three actors: Tarzan, Jane, and Rom, are all completely stripped of personality, seemingly pursuing their motivations like zombies.
Waltz has begun to be shoe-horned into a specific type of role lately, the nasty, mustache-twirling villain that opposes our hero, and he fits that mold here with his intimidating pseudo-sophistication. Because the plot is so murky, and the “Jane escapes and then is captured again” sequence is done multiple times, even he seems bored with the performance. He’s Christoph Waltz, give him something fun to do.
Tarzan is acted by Alexander Skarsgard, who turns in the most ruthlessly dull blockbuster performance of, well, ever? He does not emote once during the run time of this film, and even his vine swinging is done with a straight face (we never see him do the Tarzan scream on screen). He’s all poses and flexing after gaining some serious muscle for the role, but it’s an empty shell of a performance without any depth to speak of. His backstory is told through hurried, rushed flashbacks that occur randomly, immediately taking you out of the present story-line whenever it attempts to build momentum, and then, the flashbacks really reveal nothing that the audience could not have worked out on their own. The pacing and plotting is one thing, but Skarsgard’s performance really weighs this film down.
In an effects driven film, we need more wonderment from the effects, and that doesn’t exist here. I’m not sure of the gorilla effects were done through motion capture or through normal computer animation, but they don’t really hold a candle to the things we saw in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes or The Jungle Book. They were serviceable for the most part until some scenes that take place high in the trees where there is very little realism in the imagery. When the entire shot is of a CGI landscape, this film doesn’t really hold up.
Finally, I just want to address the issue of colonization that the film brings up, which is kind of a crux for the whole Tarzan mythology. The Legend of Tarzan tries to make a very large scale point about white supremacy during this time period, and using modern English and dialect, relate it back to today’s society. I don’t think that there’s an educated person in the world who doesn’t understand how awful colonialism was during this time, and how industrialized nations exerted their will over those who were behind economically. Why this film feels the need to spoon feed us this point is beyond me.
The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
Director: David Yates (Harry Potter 5,6,7,8)
Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jim Broadbent
RT Score: 34%