The Legend of Tarzan full movie review - The Legend of Tarzan' is a talky and under-adrenalized reboot.
Author Edgar Rice Burroughs' most famous character, Tarzan of the Apes, has re-emerged on movie screens, this time at the hands of "Harry Potter" helmer David Yates.
As promising as that might sound, hold the applause. "The Legend of Tarzan" is a disappointing and under-adrenalized excuse for an action/adventure movie.
Tarzan has been living the life of an English lord at his ancestral home with Jane for a decade when the movie opens, turning down an entreaty from government bigwigs to return to Africa to accept an invitation from King Leopold of Belgium to see how well his colony in the Congo is going. Samuel L. Jackson, as Dr. George Washington Williams, is on hand representing the United States government, and has his own reasons for wanting Tarzan to accept the invitation. We know he's going to say yes. A Tarzan movie set entirely in London wouldn't be much of a Tarzan movie, after all. There's skullduggery afoot though, and no sooner have the current Lord and Lady Greystoke set foot on African soil again, Jane is kidnapped, and Tarzan has to swing through the dense jungles to find her, all the while being led into a trap.
Africa has been a staple of Hollywood movies since "Trader Horn," and author Edgar Rice Burroughs' enduring pulp hero Tarzan has been a perennial movie hero since before movies could talk. "The Legend of Tarzan," frequently seems to do nothing but talk, and that's not necessarily a good thing with a Tarzan movie.
It's not that anyone is asking for a return to the days of Johnny Weismuller and "Me Tarzan, you Jane" (and yes, that's a real line, not one of those "did he really say that" lines). In Burroughs' novels, Tarzan is multilingual and articulate. That's not the same thing as needless speechifying.
To be fair, Tarzan doesn't get the longest speeches in "The Legend of Tarzan," but the fact remains that this is an oddly talky and slow-paced affair for a Tarzan movie. Blame the screenplay by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, which though "based" (to use the word loosely) on the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs is largely an original script with some Burroughs origin story awkwardly inserted as flashbacks. It bears noting that Burroughs' original 1912 novel has never been adapted faithfully, although it's virtually never been out of print. Not only is the script too talky, but much of the talk is clunky and anachronistic. Although the story takes place in the 1880's, you'd never know it from the all-too contemporary- sounding dialogue.
The worst offender is the character of Jane, played by an engaging Margot Robbie, who, as in the novels, is portrayed as American, but hardly an American woman of the Victorian age. This Jane is thoroughly modern, but that's neither convincing nor terribly entertaining. It might also be noted that her backstory has been heavily overhauled by Cozad and Brewer, and not for the better. (Jane in the novels did not grow up in Africa, for one thing.)
Alexander Skarsgård plays a kinder, gentler Tarzan, but it's an open question as to whether that approach is actually a good idea.Skarsgård looks the part well enough, though he isn't quite the godlike creature of the books. Yates takes a nearly homoerotic delight in displaying Skarsgård's well-sculpted physique, which looks more like the result of hundreds of sado-masochistic hours in the gym than being raised in the jungle by apes, but this is a sensitive Tarzan, moved to near tears by looking into the eyes of a CGI elephant. It's not quite possible to reconcile this Tarzan with the boy who was beaten nearly to death by a great ape - a flashback lifted, if sanitized, from Burroughs' original novel. And although Skarsgård clearly gets that Tarzan is a man with a foot in two worlds, but not quite belonging in either, he fails to find the exuberance in Burroughs' story, and the result is a little too depressing to be fun.
Yates fails to infuse the movie with any real sense of adventure, and there's shockingly little momentum. And from a "Harry Potter" director, it's also shocking to see the mediocre quality of technical craftsmanship exhibited here. The photography is bland and unimaginative; the special effects are sub-par. One CGI critter after another parades by, each less convincing than the last. The fleet of ships that provide a major element in the movie's third act are singularly fake-looking, and it might be noted that the season finale of "Game of Thrones" pulled off a similar effect better with less money.
The supporting cast includes such stalwarts as Christoph Waltz, Jackson, Djimon Hounsou, James Broadbent and Simon Russell Beale (Showtime's "Penny Dreadful"). Waltz is particularly disappointing, turning in yet another stock B movie villain performance, completely devoid of menace, charm, or interest. Waltz has won two well- deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscars for Quentin Tarantino movies, but no one else seems to be able to get anything even remotely interesting out of him. As for Jackson, he's playing a Tarantino type here, although it's very difficult to reconcile the character with the Victorian age or anything going on in the story. At least he's fun to watch. Hounsou plays a menacing tribal chieftain with sincerity, but really doesn't have much to do. Beale, a dangerous scene-stealer, utterly upends Waltz in their few scenes together, and leaves the audience wishing he'd had more to do.
To be fair, the 3D post-conversion is high quality, and does add some impact to both the action scenes and the vistas, both real and digital. The music score, by Rupert Gregson-Williams ("Hotel Rwanda," "Over the Hedge," "Grown Ups," "Here Comes the Boom") is a pale imitation of "The Lion King," which says a lot about the level of original thinking, or lack of it, permeating the entire movie.