REVIEW: “The Legend of Tarzan” (2016)

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The story of Tarzan certainly has legs. Edgar Rice Burroughs first introduced the character in 1912. In all Burroughs wrote 26 Tarzan novels. Dating back to the silent era there have been over 50 Tarzan movies. He has been featured in eight television series, seven documentaries, several comic books, a video game, and even a 1980’s pop song (if you want to count that). As I said, Tarzan certainly has legs.

While he has had a long and impressive history, is Tarzan still a bankable property? Modern moviegoers embrace some truly wacky stuff, but an ape-man who swings on vines and communicates with animals? “The Legend of Tarzan” certainly tries to bring itself into the 21st century by including topics of genocide, slavery, etc. But early box office numbers make you question its effectiveness.

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“The Legend of Tarzan” is the first live action Tarzan film since 1998’s misfire “Tarzan and the Lost City”. Director David Yates of Harry Potter fame was given a $180 million budget to bring Tarzan back to the screen in this new era of visual filmmaking. From an effects perspective the film definitely brings Tarzan into a new light. Storywise it struggles to do anything significantly original or new.

Co-writers Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer take a serious approach to the Tarzan story which makes it an even tougher sell. It’s the 19th century and the Congo has been divided up between Belgium and England. Belgium’s King Leopold II decides to mine the resource-rich territory of its Opar diamonds to pay for his country’s significant debt. To oversee it Leopold sins his envoy Leon Rom (played by a fedora wearing moustached Christoph Waltz). In order the get the diamonds from a brutal tribe he must deliver Tarzan to the tribe’s leader (Djimon Hounsou).

Alexander Skarsgård plays Tarzan, now going by John Clayton III. He’s a celebrity in England with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) even though he languishes away from the jungle. He is convinced to go back to the Congo by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson as the film’s lone comic relief) who suspects the Belgians of enslaving the Congolese people. He reluctantly allows Jane to come along not knowing the turmoil that lies ahead.

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Skarsgård, perhaps best known for his seven seasons on HBO’s “True Blood”, looks the part – flowing blonde hair, stoic manliness, and chiseled abs. But past that his performance can best be described as emotionally dry and expressionless. Margot Robbie is a different story. She is lively, authentic, and does her best to break out of the ‘damsel in distress’ role. The script doesn’t fully allow for that. It ultimately becomes another ‘Tarzan saving Jane’ story as it hops from one set piece to the next.

Yates does a good job of giving us interesting locales and some beautiful photography. The story itself doesn’t carve new ground, but it does keep your interest especially if approached lightheartedly. Many critics have sneeringly scrutinized the film with overly cynical modern sensibilities. I don’t think those criticisms holds water. The film’s faults center more around its inability to invigorate the franchise and surprise us with something fresh and new. It is far from being a horrible movie, but it’s even farther from being a great one.

VERDICT – 2.5 STARS

 

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29 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Legend of Tarzan” (2016)

  1. Nice review sir. But unf9rtunatey not positive enough to get me to change my mind on this one, it just looks too bland and pointless. And as much as I like SLJ, does the guy have a stipulation in his contract to be in every single release that comes out in a given year? My goodness

    • Sadly there is nothing here that merits a theater visit. And it’s a shame. It is a well made movie with some entertainment value. At the same time it does nothing that will stick with you. And I left wondering why $180 million was put towards the project. I dunno man.

      Great point about SLJ. He is everything regardless of the genre, quality, etc. He is obviously getting a lot of paydays but I truly think it is cheapening his brand. Do you agree?

      • I think it is to some extent. He’s in so much that the probabilities are also in his favor, like for every 10 bad ones he has a part in, he stars in about twice as many that are actually decent-to-great. I just tire of seeing him all over the place. That must mean I’m not as big a fan of him as others are, but that’s ok. I think he’s best when he’s teamed up with QT 😉

      • I’m with you there. I do like him, but I’m definitely not the biggest fan. It would be nice to see him be a little more selective.

  2. A pretty spot-on review. I went to see this at the cinema yesterday and the plot just didn’t do it for me! The most exciting parts are as he’s swinging through the trees, or when it cuts back to his earlier days when he first encountered Jane. How the movie looks far outdoes the story – the opening of the movie with those cool, visually beautiful, sweeping shots of the Congo promise a potentially brilliant plot, but it just doesn’t happen does it? I’ll be reviewing it shortly. Margot Robbie though – love her. Can’t wait to see more of her!

    • Do you get the sense that Robbie is really stepping into her own as an actress? I’ve been impressed with several of the more recent things she has done.

      The story does fall into the bland category, doesn’t it? And while I would say I was entertained, I left knowing that nothing in the film would stick with me.

      • Yeah, you’re right, I think she’s going to become much more prominent in the world of cinema! I can’t wait for her to do some big career-defining role like Winslet in The Reader or something! Seems like she’ll be an interesting character in Suicide Squad.

  3. I saw that you had posted your review, just when I was sitting down in the theater to take this in. I waited to read it until I had finished my own comments on the film. This is one that we disagree on slightly, I really liked it and I was surprised at how well it managed to make the story feel familiar without relying on a simple repeat of the whole origins elements.
    That meant this could focus on the plot of this episode of Tarzan’s adventures and make a solid action film at the same time. SLJ may be over exposed, but that was true 15 years ago. The real question concerns whether he was effective in this film. I thought he was, There are several humor beats of course but he provided the side kick role as an anachronistic but believable human being. Margot Robbie and Alexander Skarsgård had some great sexual chemistry. Waltz as the villain is the weak point but that is the way the part was written, although I thought he had a couple of really solid moments. I never bothered with the 98 film, although I do admire the Disney version. This felt almost like a companion piece to Greystoke, but with a less heavy tone and more adventure based fun as it’s goal. It’s certainly not perfect but I would give it an endorsement much more enthusiastic than your views here.

    • Glad you liked it. And as I stated elsewhere I was entertained. But at the end I knew that it was something I would never care about seeing again. I found it to be pretty lightweight, and while I do admire it trying to modernize the franchise, it did feel like a pretty plain Tarzan saving Jane story.

      As for SLJ, early on I thought he would be a character with more depth. For me he turned into the run-of-the-mill humorous sidekick. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. But in this instance I felt I knew exactly where his character was going once I figured him out. So he, like the whole movie, was entertaining to me but nothing that made either stand out. That’s why when struggling between a 2.5 and 3 stars I went with the latter.

  4. Hi Keith! Boy I haven’t even heard of “Tarzan and the Lost City,” is that the one w/ Casper Van Diem?? So yeah, I think we’re in agreement about this one generally speaking. Skarsgard is ’emotionally dry and expressionless’ indeed, I think he aimed for being a brooding tortured soul but lacks the depth to make it so. I like Robbie though, she’s effortlessly charismatic. But the real scene stealer here is definitely Sam Jackson!

    • Yep! That’s the one. I never made it through the entire thing. But what I saw was pretty atrocious. I think I read somewhere that it’s tagline was “A new Tarzan for a new generation”. Nope!

  5. Have to agree about Margot Robbie. For some reason I thought she’d just be a flash in the pan gorgeous face with average talent after The Wolf of Wall Street. But man, I’m starting to see her disappear in her roles, she’s really talented and only a matter of time before we hear her name in Best Actress/Best Supporting actress lists.

    Not much more that I can say that you’ve already said (or that I outlined in my take). May have liked slightly more than you but found firmly average, and a massive bore for the first half.

    • It’s weird man. For most of the review I had 3 stars in mind. The more I wrote the more I realized that it is indeed as you said – firmly average. It’s well made but absolutely nothing that I’ll go back and watch again. As for Robbie, she is selling me on her acting chops.

    • No need to head to the theater. It doesn’t do enough to make it necessary. Give it a look at home though. It has some entertainment value.

  6. I am tempted by this, but I think there are two or three films out here this week that I’d rather see, so maybe I’ll catch it on TV or on DVD in the future. I’ve seen the trailer a few times and the effects look pretty bad (particularly the gorillas).

    • Are you a fan of the Tarzan franchise? If not I don’t think the film does anything that warrants a big screen viewing. I do think there is some entertainment value in it though. Again, it isn’t bad. It’s just bland to the point of frustration. You see the things it does well and quickly realize it could have been a better picture.

      • I used to watch the old Johnny Weissmuller films when I was a kid, they were great! But the last one I saw was the Christopher Lambert one, Greystoke…and I watched that a long time ago. I wouldn’t call myself a fan as such but it’s been such a long time I’m not averse to watching a reboot/modern version.

      • I’ll give this one credit for trying to modernize the series while staying true to its time period. Some of the criticisms have been unfair. It is sensitive to the issues it explores. It does occasionally (and pretty vaguely) hearkens back to the Weissmuller pictures.

    • Thanks. You’re right. It definitely had some likable elements. I went back and forth between 2.5 and 3 stars because there were things it does well. I wasn’t bored but I kept wishing it would set itself apart. Not sure if it ever does.

    • Thank Vinnie! Your question gets right to my biggest complaint. Regardless of how competently made it is, the movie does nothing to show why it was even necessary.

      • I know. I mention the number in the review and is pretty astounding. I will give this one credit for trying to modernize it in terms of the subjects it tackles. But that isn’t quite enough to make it work. I would say rent it when it hits DVD. Just don’t have super-high expectations.

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