When I first saw Warner Bros Pictures The Legend of Tarzan announced, I thought “Why?” Then the casts slowly rolled out – Director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows P1 & P2), Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel L Jackson, Djimon Hounsou, Christoph Waltz, and Margot Robbie. Then they had my attention. How could this go wrong?
Well…rather than an updated Tarzan story, this story takes place in the 1880’s. John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgaard) aka Tarzan is living with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) in Victorian London. Back in Africa, Belgian Captain Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) wants to mine diamonds in the Congo. In order to get to those diamond, Rom must bring Tarzan to Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou).
Tarzan reluctantly accepts the invite to the Congo and his accompanied by Jane and George Washington Williams (Samuel L Jackson). In an attempt to capture Tarzan, Rom abducts Jane and uses her as bait to lure Tarzan into Mbonga’s trap.
The issues for Tarzan start with the African tribe/slavery backdrop in the story. Prior to leaving London, George Washington Williams tells Tarzan he’s curious if there’s any slavery going on and that’s his purpose for going on the trip. Of course the Africans they show are the stereotypical undeveloped African villagers shown in 90% of movies. The villagers’ story doesn’t give them much to do besides be pawns to show Tarzan isn’t racist. They even show a picture of Jane smiling with a bunch of Africans. It looks like a brochure picture for a non-profit more than Jane spending time with people she loves.
The film shows Tarzan’s upbringing through a series of flashbacks. For a film titled “The Legend of..” the backstory is surprisingly uninteresting. It’s mostly because Jungle Book did it 100 times better. Adult Tarzan isn’t any more interesting. Skarsgard spends most of his time shirtless, brooding, shirtless & brooding, or imprinting on elephants and lions. He swings through the jungle like he’s wearing an Iron Man suit and somehow found a way to shave while living in the jungle but not cut his hair. None of it makes sense.
If watching Tarzan cuddle with lions isn’t uncomfortable enough, he knows mating calls for every animal in the jungle. It would be cool if it didn’t look absolutely ridiculous every time he did it. All of Tarzan’s animal interactions are insane. In one scene, he sees an elephant and remembers his name. What? Elephants can’t even tell elephants apart and he’s been gone for 8 years. Even more bonkers is Tarzan’s fight with the gorilla – he’s tossed around, thrown against a tree, and repeatedly hit on the back. He should be dead, or at best, paralyzed. Is there a deleted scene where he gets one of those stars from Super Mario Bros. and it made him invincible? That’s the only thing that makes sense. The only injuries Tarzan suffers are a few scratches, a separated shoulder, and a cut that’s stitched together with fire ants. I’m not making this up.
The Legend of Tarzan’s biggest issue is being a pointless story. The five credited writers is exactly why story is jumbled. There’s very little the film offers that people can care about. It’s dumb, but not dumb enough to be fun. It has action, but not enough action to be enjoyable. It tries to be funny, but there are strange jokes like the mustache bit and the priest joke. It’s oddly serious too. The only person who seems to be having fun is Samuel L Jackson. Everyone else behaves like they’re in an Oscar nominated movie.
Tarzan is proof that the days of tossing actors into a known property and churning out a summer blockbuster are over. Pretty faces and big names aren’t enough anymore. Audiences want a movie with substance and that’s exactly what Tarzan is missing.