The Legend of Tarzan
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The Lord of the Jungle returns to the big screen in The Legend of Tarzan starring Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou, and Christoph Waltz. Is this action adventure worth swinging into theaters this holiday weekend, or would you be better off licking an ape’s nuts?
In 1912 Edgar Rice Burroughs released “Tarzan of the Apes,” his first novel about the adventures of a man of noble birth raised by Apes who found him in the jungle after he was orphaned as a baby. Twenty-three more books were released in the original series with a subsequent fourteen more authorized novels. As a kid, I used to watch the old black and white TV show starring Johnny Weissmuller along with The Lone Ranger starring Clayton Moore. I still remember how cool Weissmuller’s iconic Tarzan yell was. Only after Dracula, Tarzan has been one of the most adapted characters in radio, comics, books, tv shows, and movies.
The Legend of Tarzan is the character’s latest adaptation starring Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan and Margot Robbie as his wife Jane. Tarzan has left the jungles of Africa and is now living a civilized life as John Clayton III at Greystoke Manor in England. Reports of illegal slave trades in the Congo and wrong doings of King Leopold bring John and Jane back to their childhood homes, but their return is all a ruse set up by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), an emissary for King Leopold. He wants to capture him and turn him over to a tribal chief (Djimon Hounsou) in order to gain control of the local diamond mines. When Rom captures Jane instead to use as bait, Tarzan, with the help of George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), must resort back to his wild nature to rescue his wife as well as the local natives who have been captured for the slave trade.
What works in the movie first and foremost are the visuals. The landscapes were stunning. And even though the film was shot in the UK, it felt like Africa. The sets and outfits were terrific and the music really produced an African vibe very reminiscent to Disney’s The Lion King. Now while the CGI of the gorillas and other animals was great, they weren’t as nearly as impressively jaw dropping as this year’s The Jungle Book. Many times the animals felt a bit off. What I was impressed the most was with the choreography of the Apes. The motion capture actors were on par with movies like Peter Jackson’s King Kong and the modern Planet of the Apes movies. The animals may not have looked 100% realistic, but they sure acted like it.
What I also enjoyed were the performances of Alexander Skarsgård and Margot Robbie. Skarsgård portrays Tarzan as a strong silent type which worked really well in the movie. You could see that he was always pondering things and not just rushing in. One detail that I really thought was neat was how he had computer modified hands to be more ape-like so as to explain how skillful he was at climbing and swinging. He explains to inquiring children it’s because he grew up walking on his hands and it changed the bone structure. When Tarzan was in the wild, he was really cool. The camera would slow down to show just how majestic he was swinging from tree to tree. I also really loved that Skarsgård moved and acted like an animal, He made it believable that he was actually raised by apes. He would sniff and rub his head on animals as he interacted with them. This really benefitted to the realistic performance. For female fans of HBO’s True Blood, you will not at all be disappointed with Skarsgård as he goes without his shirt for most of the movie.
I’m not going to lie, I was a huge fan of Margot Robbie in The Wolf of Wall Street for obvious reasons and I’ve been really impressed with all her performances since. She not only lights up a room with her smile and hypnotic eyes, but she really has some acting range. I really liked her as Jane. She has a sense of wonderment about her as well as compassion and kindness. What I liked the most with the character was that the film didn’t make her the same old damsel in distress. She is strong and independent. As a huge superhero fan, I can’t wait to see her as Harley Quinn in next month’s Suicide Squad. So far from the trailers, she’s killing it.
Unfortunately they rest of the movie felt a bit uninspired and awkward. From the trailers, I was expecting the movie to be a dramatic action/adventure flick, but I found the movie to be filled with odd moments of comedy, mostly at the hands of Samuel L. Jackson as the film’s main source of comic relief. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy fun action films like The Mummy franchise starring Brendan Fraser, but the humor in those movies felt more natural and organic. The Legend of Tarzan‘s moments of humor felt extremely forced. I was surprised how many times my screening audience was laughing at really odd times throughout the movie. Samuel L. Jackson, pretty much plays the same stereotypical role he always plays minus the cursing since this is a PG-13 movie. Jackson is one of my all-time favorite actors, but this performance felt dialed-in. One of the most cringe-worthy moments of the movie involves Mr. Jackson asking Tarzan if he should orally gratify an ape. I kid you not. After a fight with Tarzan’s gorilla brother, Jackson literally asks Skarsgård if he should “lick his nuts” to show the gorilla submission. That’s the type of awkward comedy this movie has.
Another disappointment in the movie was Christoph Waltz as the film’s main villain. As a two-time Oscar winner, Waltz really is a spectacular actor. I love his ability to switch from charming to terrifying in a blink of an eye. But lately, he seems to be typecast as the same villain in every movie. The character of Leon Rom is no different than Waltz’s performances in The Three Musketeers, Epic, Horrible Bosses 2, SPECTRE, and The Green Hornet minus the charisma. Even in Big Eyes, he plays a villain. It’s disappointing that he keeps taking on the same roles over and over. The only thing rememberable about this character is that he’s chokes people out with a rosary. Yes, readers, a rosary.
From the trailers, I was really looking forward to seeing The Legend of Tarzan, but unfortunately when I left the theater, I was already forgetting about it. There’s really not a lot of meat to the movie. It just comes off like a Spider-Man movie with Mary Jane constantly in trouble and Spidey has to swing in and rescue her. Now to be fair, that’s how even the old black and white TV show was, but the story seems to favor visuals and action scenes in lieu of a solid plot and memorable characters. There is a lot of ambition to The Legend of Tarzan, but sadly it swings and misses.
The Legend of Tarzan isn’t inherently terrible, but it’s really not that great either. Visually it looks stunning at times, especially the scenic landscapes, but everything else was just average. The CGI of the animals looked good, but not to the photo-realistic levels of this year’s The Jungle Book. The CGI felt more to the levels of Jumanji. I liked Alexander Skarsgård and Margot Robbie as Tarzan and Jane, but Samuel L. Jackson as the comic relief felt goofy and forced and Christoph Waltz once again plays an uninspired and generic villain. Unless you are a huge fan of Tarzan or are super desperate to see Alexander Skarsgård without a shirt, don’t rush to theaters, just wait to rent it.