1998’s animated version of Tarzan was the best possible adaptation of Edgar Rice Burrough’s for a variety of reasons. It had some of the most incredible animation for its time, it had an amazing soundtrack and thinking about it now renders the sweet 90’s nostalgia.
So a live action version of the Tarzan story, The Legend of Tarzan, has an uphill battle to satisfy both fans of the 90’s film and newer audiences. Under David Yates’ direction, unfortunately the film fails to create much of an impression and ultimately comes across as a hollow CGI heavy bore
Tarzan’s origin story is established in intercutting flashbacks where it is revealed that due to a shipwreck the baby Tarzan was raised by apes in the African jungle. The Legend of Tarzan in fact is set in the 1890’s when Tarzan, whose real name is John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgard) is pulled back into civilization and is rechristened as the Earl of Greystroke.
He lives along with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) in England and the stories of Tarzan’s adventures have become pulp fiction. Here’s when things start to fall off the rails – the plot becomes convoluted as a civil war hero named George (Samuel Jackson) accompanies Clayton to Congo to investigate slavery and they both fall into some contrived trap set by the racist and villainous Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz). There’s a diamond trade conspiracy and Clayton must revert to becoming Tarzan to thwart Rom’s evil plans.
The problem is the film and the story are far too serious, and the overtly convoluted conspiracy angle rests on a very flimsy story. There’s too much of unnecessary stuff happening and too little of the good stuff that you want from a Tarzan movie. The perfunctory nature of the villain’s scheme adds little to the excitement levels and it becomes a matter of sitting through the runtime just to see Tarzan emerge triumphant. You know the good guy is going to beat the bad guy, and with virtually no stakes or a real threat to the hero’s life it’s impossible to feel anything for the film’s characters.
The other problem with The Legend of Tarzan is the ham-fisted attempts at addressing colour bias. Tarzan and Jane arrive at a tribe where the dark skinned residents greet the white skinned Tarzan like a brother, and the American Jane often thinks of herself as African. There’s no nuance whatsoever to be found here to establish any proper commentary on a real world problem. The conflict in Congo and Rom’s actions as shown in the movie are allegedly based on real life incidents but nothing in the film will give you any proper understanding of why Rom was committing those atrocities.
The character is simply one step ahead of being a stereotypical mustache-twirling villain. Skarsgard, whose face is often in the shadows doesn’t have many lines in the film and his extreme gym bod does most of the acting. Robbie is severely miscast as Jane – she looks like a very modern woman placed in a period film.
It looks like Warner and Disney are making the same kind of blockbuster movies and the latter is consistently making the better ones.
Civil War was infinitely better than Batman v Superman. Last month’s The Jungle Book was a surprisingly engrossing movie, and this week’s The Legend of Tarzan once again feels like an inferior product. Considering their track record it’s safe to keep the expectations for Warner’s Jungle Book movie low. If you’re looking for a more fun Tarzan movie, you should pop in the DVD of George of the Jungle starring Brendan Fraser.