The Legend of Tarzan represents the latest failed attempt at renewing interest in a live action film rendition of the world famous King of the Jungle created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan. While over two hundred films on the feral human who is one with the animals and entirely driven by natural primordial instinct, only one rendition within the past thirty years proved to be critically and commercially successful and that was the 1999 animated Disney film. The rest from the woefully underrated 1984 Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes to the critically reviled 1998 Tarzan and the Lost City have sadly been textbook examples to studio heads: don't make Tarzan movies. Stunningly nearly twenty years later, history seems to be repeating itself as the director of the last four Harry Potter films, David Yates, takes to the director's chair with Alexander Skarsgard as his new Tarzan and Margot Robbie as his Jane. Joining Tarzan's side is George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) who find themselves under pursuit of a bounty hunter played by Christoph Waltz. Even Jim Broadbent and Djimon Hounsou show up in this thing. It has a great cast which unfortunately is asked to channel performances from other movies that were far better and made stronger use of their talents. In short, The Legend of Tarzan, while aiming to be a swashbuckler along the lines of Pirates of the Caribbean, winds up being the ugliest, most dour action adventure period piece to come out in IMAX 3D since Ron Howard's In the Heart of the Sea.
To be fair to Ron Howard's depressing blunder, at least that film had strong visual effects and noticeable 3D effects. Here, this hastily post-converted intended for 2D effort contains numerous scenes that honestly look as if the 3D effects were shut off and when they are working they add next to nothing to the IMAX 3D ticket price. For as much flak as the vine swinging sequence from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull gets, it's masterful compared to this schlock. Aside from the film's awfully cartoonish looking CGI with ape special effects that manage to rival Congo's technical ineptitude, The Legend of Tarzan represents yet another big budget Hollywood film that can't help but carry the visual torch lit by Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. From the near monochromatic desaturated colors, gritty frame dropping and intense closeups of actors sweaty faces, this odd mixture of self-serious sepia tone meets Tarzan as The Terminator with Samuel L. Jackson cracking dependable one-liners emerges as a stalemate unsure of how to assail the B movie tropes tonally. Margot Robbie's Jane has some fiesty fight in her although my thoughts drifted away to her electrifying performance in The Wolf of Wall Street. Christoph Waltz may as well be phoning in his cornball Nazi from Inglourious Basterds and any second at a dinnertable scene of tense manners I kept waiting him for say 'wait for the cream!'. Yeah the cast is good but no one is given a lot of depth, the only direction seeming to be for them to do what they did in their last movie.
As I said before, Greystoke, while not necessarily of the swashbuckler adventure film Tarzan came to be known for, had something to it including but not limited to A Clockwork Orange cinematographer John Alcott's luminous images, the Morricone-esque score and a realistic approach to the mythical hero in fiction. Despite the flaws and there are many, that film at least had ambition with scenic beauty that tried to do something new with the character that hadn't been seen before. Here, Tarzan is reduced to the most boring superhuman since John Singleton's 2000 remake of Shaft. The character is so larger than life in this particular film that it's difficult to care about him or feel a sense of peril for the supporting characters he must rescue. Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz are fun to watch since they seem to know what kind of a bomb they've strapped themselves onto, but that's not enough to sustain a two hour film with CGI that dares to dethrone Gods of Egypt as the worst looking computer generated imagery seen on the silver screen this year. Sadly this will die a quiet death over the weekend at the box office, as the last few Tarzan films have, which begs the question why they're still bothering to make movies about this legendary Lord of the Apes in the first place.
- Andrew Kotwicki