Throughout The Legend of Tarzan®, Margot Robbie’s Jane Porter reminds us that Tarzan was first thought to be a dark spirit in the trees before coming to be known as the legendary ape man.
It’s a bit ironic, then, because were it not for this awkward voiceover reminder, there would be practically nothing in the latest adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic tale that would identify this as being a Tarzan film.
While there may be a jungle setting and a man who sometimes swings from trees and interacts with apes, The Legend of Tarzan® holds no characteristics of its own outside of its ability to make otherwise extraordinary things dull and plain.
Director David Yates did some commendable work on the final half of the Harry Potter series so it’s sad to see him saddled with a project that, after being in the pipeline for a long time, seems to have reached the point of the studio just needing to get the thing shot and released.
This new Tarzan shakes things up a bit, in that it’s essentially a sequel to the story we know, and sees Tarzan in a “return to the jungle” scenario. However, it still
bogs down the movie’s pace finds the time to tell the entire original story in flashback form.
And while credit is certainly due for the film’s willingness to touch on colonialism and the exploitation of Africa, it’s all lost on a screenplay so flat that the theme doesn’t progress beyond leading into another “white savior” trope.
If you take out the admittedly pretty backgrounds of the African savanna (easy, because the actors were all shot on a set in the U.K.) and the shoddy digital apes, the movie is essentially “generic action man does generic action things while being played by the next in line to be a generic action star.”
There’s nothing particularly wrong with Alexander Skargard, or anyone else in the cast for that matter, but the screenplay doesn’t flesh out any of the characters beyond the point of being cardboard cut-outs. They’re just kind of stuck doing what they need to in order to get on with it — and they don’t seem particularly enthused about it.
Not that Tarzan himself was ever an emotionally vivid character but that shouldn’t stop the lord of the apes from looking like he wants to actually be there.
But a Tarzan film doesn’t need to be dramatically complex, perfectly cohesive or thought-provoking. It, at the very least, just needs to be fun. Serve up some eye popping visuals and visceral escapism, yes?
Well, The Legend of Tarzan®* also drops the ball in this most basic of areas. Clouded in a thick layer of cinematic murk, the action of LOT® is stunted by some nauseating camera work, while the small amount of humor the film does have sets the bar as low as primate fellatio.
[*Seriously, the movie makes sure the copyright symbol is present in every appearance of the title.]
That is, however, when the movie finds time for its few adventure thrills in between all the intrusive flashbacks to an origin that we already know, that doesn’t add anything and leads to some serious bloat.
Tarzan may be more than 100 years old but it’s perfectly conceivable that audiences are ready and willing to embrace the iconic character once more.
However, we’re in an era where films like the new Planet of the Apes push the boundaries on digital human/animal performance, the live action Jungle Book brings the jungle to vibrant life, and Mad Max: Fury Road takes stoic characters and fleshes them out in a perfectly-paced thrill ride.
All of those films have one thing in common: they’re passion projects. That’s a concept that’s as foreign and mysterious to The Legend of Tarzan® as man is to beast.