The Legend of Tarzan Plot Summary:
Set in the late 1800’s, when the King of Belgium sends his most trusted servant (Christoph Waltz) to acquire diamonds in the Congo, John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgard) must return to the jungle where he was raised as Tarzan, a fierce warrior, as he attempts to save his people from a slavery ring, as well as his beloved wife, Jane (Margot Robbie).
The Legend of Tarzan is one of those “get a good night sleep” movies. Watching the trailers, it was pretty clear a barrage of flat acting and boring tones would hit me in the face like a gorilla’s punch. While I’ll give this film slightly more credit, that’s essentially what I got. David Yates (Harry Potters 5-8) is a good director. He does what he can from a dense, lifeless script. I’m not sure Christopher Nolan could have done much with this. As someone who could care less about Tarzan, this film actually had a foundation for a cool Tarzan movie. The non-linear structure of John Clayton/Tarzan returning to the jungle was a clever, original idea. Here’s the problem – there’s nothing interesting about this character, and that begins with Tarzan himself, Alexander Skarsgard.
I appreciate the physical shape Skarsgard got into for the role, as I’m sure he had to consume a ton of fish oil or whatever the hell Olympic athletes eat, but that doesn’t translate to a good performance. This film desperately needed a strong leading man. The entire movie talks about the Legend of Tarzan, and how bad ass he is. Hell, the guy even has his own song that gets hummed throughout the jungle! The problem is this character is about as exciting as Padme Amidala. There’s nothing here. All we see is Tarzan swing from a few vines and look moderately intense. That’s it. It’s like he’s trying to talk in monotone, and doing a really good job at it. Even when he fights an animal, he gets his ass kicked. Some legend. Skarsgard is simply not a capable actor. If this was Hugh Jackman, it would have been dramatically better. It’s an intriguing set up, but there are no “wow” character moments anywhere in this movie.
As far as the rest of the cast goes, I’m not going to say they are wasted, as the film would have been much worse had we gotten a bunch of Alexander Skarsgards, but they don’t do much. Christoph Waltz steps outside his comfort zone and plays a villain. To be fair, he’s much better here than in Spectre, so there you go. Samuel L. Jackson is relegated to 90’s level comic relief, spitting out dialogue they wrote five minutes before shooting. While Margot Robbie over acts, she at least injects some life into this. Her romantic relationship with Tarzan is dead on arrival. Despite one tense dinner exchange between Robbie and Waltz, all these actors are criminally underutilized.
While there’s a few cool scenes with many of the animals who roam the jungle, there’s nothing visually stunning. It faces the same problem that all summer movies do, which is staring at a lifeless screen of CG that I’m sure cost a ton of money. A gluttony of CG is like consuming turkey and stuffing at Thanksgiving – it puts you to sleep. The only difference is CG doesn’t taste as good. The story is also bogged down in political shenanigans that sound like something George Lucas wrote. You could have simplified this tenfold and focused more on character, but this script was clearly something the writers just wanted to get through.
I’ll give David Yates credit. This could have been a lot worse. He adds style here and there to make this passable, but there’s too much of a generic sheen over this movie. Generic dialogue. Generic score. Generic everything. I’ll stick with Phil Collins as my Tarzan outlet.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10 (Passable Entertainment)
Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.