I moan about the lack of originality in these reviews a lot but I am sympathetic to the creative minds at Hollywood, really! To create a truly original story is incredibly difficult and honestly sometimes it’s not worth it as even if you did come up with a film based on an original premise, some snarky bastard like me is going to come around and say it’s like some other film from the early 2000’s that no one even cares about anymore. So trying to find a grain of originality in a known property is fine by me, so let’s see if The Legend of Tarzan can do that.
Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard, True Blood) is many years gone from living in the jungle and now lives a civilized life living with wife Jane (Margot Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street) and is even known now as John Clayton. However they are forced to go back to Africa and when Jane is captured by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained), Tarzan is forced to go back to his roots to save the woman he loves.
Firstly, credit has to go to the director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Deathy Hallows) and the people behind this film for trying to do something different. It would have been very easy just to do that origin story again but with fancier effects and less Phil Collins, both would have been appreciated, but Yates here goes in a different direction and takes us a few years later on in the story to show us something new about Tarzan. It’s interesting to see how he’s adjusted to civilized life, he’s somehow managed to get in the House of Lords which is a prequel I want to see, and it’s interesting to see how he reacts going back to a jungle where he is now ostracized for leaving. This is a film that takes an old concept but brings something new to the table, which I’ll always applaud.
However that’s really where any of the praise has to end because it seems like they put all of their effort into the new story and then just gone to the pub because everything else here is a waste. Firstly, the film does end up relying on old tired tropes. For the majority of the film, Jane is a hostage to Leon Rom and not much else. yes, she has a bit more life to her than other Janes and the film even lampshades the fact she’s just another damsel in distress, but she’s still a damsel in distress. It’s a waste of a charismatic actress and submission to a trope I thought we had left in the distant past.
And the fact they waste a charismatic actor like Margot Robbie as a hostage when we look at Alexander Skarsgard’s performance as Tarzan because boy is he a hunk of wood. Don’t get me wrong, he looks the part and I’m sure women and some men will appreciate it when he finally gets his top off but when he’s allowed to speak, which is not often to be fair, everything falls down. Everything is done in that faux serious tone where every line is meant to be very important, but the monotone delivery means you just ignore it. I’m not sure if this is down to Skarsgard or the director, but when your main character has no emotion, we’re not going to get invested.
And Yates, you deserve all my hatred for doing one of my most loathed practices in film, draining all the color out of the movie to make it seem more serious. He does get some decent shots in there, though we are spared stunning vine swinging scenes because of an over reliance on CGI, but everything looks so dull because there’s no color to it. This film could have looked stunning with the jungle locales but no, Yates was for some reason inspired by the remake of Point Break and thinks we’ll take the film more seriously if everything looks as monotone as Skarsgard acts. Well sorry Yates, we don’t.
I am being very harsh on this film, which is mainly because there’s so much missed potential and there’s nothing in the world that irritates me more than unfulfilled potential, but there are still some things to enjoy. As I say, this story is an original take on an old story which should always be appreciated and the scriptwriter does do some good work and there is the odd good line, though they are mainly given to Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) as George Washington Williams who is guided around the jungle by Tarzan to act like an audience surrogate so we know what’s going on. It’s not all terrible.
We haven’t actually got that many good Tarzan movies as it is tough to make us take an ape-man seriously so I really was pulling for The Legend of Tarzan to be good. Unfortunately in an effort to make us take the character seriously, it goes in the other direction as it ends up being dour and dull. It is original and there’s the odd good line, but it isn’t enough to make the rest of the film interesting. It’s probably better to go to the actual jungle instead.