Jul 122016
 
Legend Of Tarzan Official Poster
Title: The Legend of Tarzan
Director: David Yates
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård,
Margot Robbie,
Christoph Waltz,
Samuel L. Jackson,
Djimon Hounsou
Genre: Action/Adventure
Runtime: 1 Hour 50 mins
Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Studio: Warner Bros.
Certificate: US: PG-13
UK: 12A
Release Date: US: Jul 01 2016
UK: Jul 08 2016
See If You Like: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan Lord of the Apes,
Tarzan (1999),

It’s a classic tale, and one we’ve seen told time and time again with various little twists and subtle differences; the story of the orphan baby who grew up in the jungle, was raised by apes, and finally had his wildness tamed when he met the love of his life Jane; and while this isn’t quite the origin story many expect, The Legend of Tarzan isn’t entirely original either.

Set several years after Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård, True Blood) has met and married Jane (Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street), moved back to England, and taken his rightful place as a proper English gent and lord of the manor, we see the call of the wilderness beckon as an American doctor (Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight) asks Tarzan (also known as John, or Lord Clayton) to accompany him on a trip to the African Congo; where both he and Jane were raised (albeit in extremely different ways); in order to stop a money-hungry Belgian (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained) from bleeding the country dry, stealing its diamonds, and enslaving its people in the name of the Belgian king.

Needless to say Tarzan goes, Jane follows, and along with Doc. Williams (Jackson) they not only meet up with some of Tarzan’s old friends (lions, gorillas, elephants, etc.), but Jane’s too (she spent her childhood in a tribal village, where her missionary father taught English), and give us a look at the legend through various flashbacks, as Jane gets kidnapped, and the Belgian tries to sell Tarzan to a tribe who have their own reasons for hating him, and Tarzan of course uses all his jungle-wiles to mount an epic rescue.

It a pretty simple story – bad man kidnaps pretty lady to lure good man into trap, good man has none of it – but one which is played out pretty well, and by a rather high calibre cast which generally fill out their roles rather well. Skarsgård is excellent as the king of the apes; a highly impressive specimen who not only looks the part, but appears believably awkward enough in everyday situations to never truly fit in anywhere, and be most at home in the jungle. While  perhaps not quite feral enough, we have to remember this is a Tarzan who’s supposedly been civilised, and Skarsgård plays him as such; a wild man who’s playing at being a gent, but far more at home with the animals, and capable of exceptional physical feats when necessity dictates, emotions rise, and his wild side is set free.

Samuel L. Jackson delivers a decent turn as a character which is often used for mild comedic value, and could’ve been hugely irritating in the wrong hands; George Washington Williams was a true historical figure, and one which is given weight in a number of exchanges, even if his only real function here is to make Tarzan look better by comparison (he’s along for the journey, and like every comedy sidekick he fails to keep up, lacks the skills of the hero, and in constantly in awe of our leading man, but ready with a quick quip when needed); and the always welcome and enjoyable Margot Robbie also brings a strong and likeable quality to a character who, spending the majority of her time kidnapped by the villain, could’ve been little more than the damsel in distress (something the filmmakers were clearly aware of, as she delivers a clunky line refusing to scream like a damsel – which wouldn’t quite fit with the lexicon of the time) but retains a strength, dignity, and sense of fun her which makes her as watchable as ever.

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Christoph Waltz is also well placed as the villain (though when isn’t he?); a rather two-dimensional character (also a true historical figure) who has no problem enforcing slavery, kidnapping women, murdering defenceless people, eating flamingos, and generally doing whatever he wants to get his hand on some rather large diamonds; but the best acting in the film comes from Djimon Hounsou (Guardians of the Galaxy); who stars as a tribal leader with his own grudge against Tarzan, and even given his limited screen-time he manages to show a range of emotions which make a simple character not only well-rounded, but sympathetic.

The CGI is also generally excellent; it’s true, you always know the animals aren’t real, and the apes in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes did look better, but both they and the jungle landscapes are presented with such care and realism as to be truly inviting; but problems arise with a number of truly awful green-screen effects which make the whole thing look cheap and are so arresting they detract from whatever’s happening.

LEGEND OF TARZAN

Direction is also lacking, the 3D is over-used and seems gimmicky rather than a natural extension of the world, and for some nausea-inducing reason the camera is practically never still; sure, it makes sense to have quick sweeping pans and tracking shots as we follow Tarzan and the apes swinging through the trees of the jungle, but when two men are standing still having a normal conversation there’s simply no need for Michael Bay-style 360º spins à la Bad Boys; there’s nothing wrong with a steady mid-shot or close-up now and then.

Overall, despite the dodgy green screen, the shaky/overly mobile camera, the rather simple plot, and the underdeveloped largely two-dimensional characters, The Legend of Tarzan is a lot of fun; the cast are great, and all are not only suited to their roles but seem to elevate their simplistically written characters; there’s plenty of action; a dollop of emotion; and, despite some clunky dialogue, a few solid character moments. It’s nice to forgo the usually obligatory origin story, and getting to see Tarzan return to the jungle was great; it’s a brilliant way to build up his legend, and It’s a take on Tarzan many won’t be familiar with (despite its basis in the classic tales, and previous film versions).

So, while it has it’s problems, The Legend Of Tarzan has everything you could want from a Tarzan movie; it’s a huge cinematic spectacle, it’s fun, it’s action packed, there’s a dose of comedy, and you not only see Tarzan (an extremely buff Alexander Skarsgård, providing plenty of eye-candy for the ladies) swinging through trees and beating up slave traders, but bonding with the animals and having a fistfight with an angry ape. A solid, worthwhile summer film.

Matt Wheeldon@TheMattWheeldon.

Verdict
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