Upon first glance at this movie, I thought it’d be an overblown mix between Disney’s TARZAN and Lord of the Rings. None of this was a bad idea, I suppose, but was it really necessary? But you know what, I like the cast. Alexander Skarsgård (TV show TRUE BLOOD) seemed like a fun choice for the title role and Margot Robbie (WOLF OF WALL STREET and FOCUS) seemed like a solid choice for Jane. Should I even bother with saying my love for Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou (BLOOD DIAMOND and Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY), and Christoph Waltz (INGLORIOUS BASTERDS and 007 SPECTRE)? Yes… yes, I should, but then we’d be here all day and I’m here to talk about the movie all these fine folks are starring in. So the acting talent is there. All that’s left if a solid story and good writing to carry the rest. Is this the story that makes legends, or is it the overblown special effects bonanza that it looks like? This is my honest opinion of THE LEGEND OF TARZAN.
Set in the backdrop of the 1880’s, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), now going by the name of John Clayton, has left his life in the jungle behind and has since fully integrated into the high society of London, England, with his beautiful wife Jane Porter (Margot Robbie) at his side. But trouble is afoot back in Africa when the villainous Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) has come in contact with an African tribe’s chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), who has been obsessed with killing Tarzan for years. They make a deal: bring Mbonga Tarzan and Rom can have his people’s valuable gems. Meanwhile, back in London, a Civil War veteran and American ambassador of sorts by the name of George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) wants John’s help with investigating some disturbing reports that the innocent tribesmen where John grew up and befriended, as well as Jane when she and her father lived there, were being taken away as slaves to build a railroad. John agrees to investigate with George, and the two men, as well as Jane, return to put a stop to the slavery.
I really liked it, but I can’t deny that there are some problems.
I’ll start with the good. The visuals in this movie are really fun to look at. In a Tarzan movie, you want to see Tarzan swinging around on his huge-ass vines, which is exactly what you get and it looks great. To see Skarsgård interacting with the animals, yeah, you can clearly tell their CG most of the time, but he interacts with them so well, it makes everything okay. Interacting with CG creatures can’t always easy, but Skarsgård makes it look easy and natural. While I could use more from him as far as acting power is concerned, he’s a good physical actor (no perverted quips, please), and he does do well with what little he’s given. It’s the quieter moments when his acting really shines during the flashback scenes.
Like many heterosexual men when WOLF OF WALL STREET came out, I became a fan of Robbie. Yes, I am aware of how attractive she is, but that’s not impressive (an attractive blond woman in Hollywood? Gee, I’ve never seen that happen). What’s impressive was how talented of a relative-newcomer she was. She was charismatic, bad-ass, and pretty funny in her own right. Her talent here… she might be a scene-stealer. Yeah, Robbie is phenomenal as this plucky and adventurous woman who loves to defy her enemies. Not to mention, I love watching her make such a flawless connection with the native people. There’s really a sense of familiarity and friendship between her and the tribes, translating to probably the sweetest moments in the movie. While I may argue that Jane is a little too damsel-in-distress for my taste… eh, she could have been Kate Capshaw from INDIANA JONES: TEMPLE OF DOOM. Jane at least throws punches, makes use of her talents of communicating with the captured tribes to plot escapes, so she could have been written a lot worse, but it’d be hard to argue if anyone claimed that she was just a tool; someone for Tarzan to save.
Once again, Jackson, Hounsou, and Waltz… they’re all amazing, although I think the easiest jokes to make are the following: Jackson is a Civil War vet who carries two revolvers… he’s basically playing his HATEFUL EIGHT character and Waltz is just playing… well, himself. None of this is a bad thing, mind you, it’s just a funny observation. However, if there is any character I wanted to give a shout-out to, it would be this one: anyone a fan of TV’s DC’s LEGENDS OF TOMORROW? Guess who plays Waltz’s right hand henchman. BAM! Vandal Savage himself, Casper Crump. Every time the guy was on screen, I kept wondering, “Why are you so familiar? The epic face fuzz, the slimy smirk, the self-absorbed personality.” When it finally dawned on me, I went full giddy. I really with I had known that while watching the movie. Those scenes would have been so much more enjoyable for me.
So the visuals and most cast are pretty solid, but now it’s time to dive into the negatives, of which there are a few.
First off, when is Hounsou going to get his big break? This man is so often playing characters that don’t showcase his talent as an actor, or he plays characters that are so minor, no one has any real time to grow attached to him. BLOOD DIAMOND can’t be his magnum opus. I mean, no one’s complaining if it were, but he needs equally great movies under his belt. I hate seeing him relegated to throwaway characters. He’s too good for that shit.
There’s also a lot of boring exposition about treaties, and the distribution of territories and bankrupt kings and whatnot. All of this is pretty head-scratching and not very interesting. Usually, especially in sci-fi and fantasy stories, exposition is needed to understand how certain things work, like technology or magic, and I can follow that stuff pretty easily and get sucked into it like a true nerd. These elements don’t bother me like they do most people. However, in a movie so grounded in the real world (or rather “trying to be” would be more accurate), the movie talks about this stuff like the audience is paying attention. We’re seeing a Tarzan movie. We want him to swing on vines, fight jaguars, humorously meet Jane, all that good shit. When the hell did anyone ever care about land distributions? Sure, the slavery element was handled very simply, and is dealt with very simply. So why bother with all the politics? No one cares about which tree belongs to which ruler from that one country.
However, the ultimate set of sins for the movie, which really hurt it, are the many plot elements that are unnecessary or go nowhere.
For example, rolling with Hounsou’s character, the movie opens on this subplot of vengeance against Tarzan. Thing is… this subplot is so drastically overlooked by the rest of the film, you could easily cut it out and miss nothing.
In the beginning of the movie, Tarzan is about to go back to the jungle and Jane wants to go with him. At first, the interaction is interesting. Jane makes the remark that she “wants to go home,” making the obvious implication that the jungle was her home, seeing as how she spent a lot of time there. But as Tarzan walks away, he says, “We are home.” See how interesting this idea is? Jane misses the jungle more than Tarzan does. He’s so integrated into his life in London that it almost seems like he doesn’t want to return. What does this have to do with the rest of the movie? Absolutely nothing. Once Tarzan returns, the first thing he does is drop his backpack and nuzzles with a trio of lionesses. He’s not rusty in the slightest. They recognize him, he recognizes them. His hesitation is never brought up again.
To make matters worse, the ending of the movie is he and Jane have a baby a year after the events of the movie and it’s implied that they’re staying in the jungle. At no point do we see Tarzan rebuild his connection to his former home that would lead him to wanting to stay and not return to his home in London, making this ending really tacked on.
Finally, the movie’s mature tone feels a little all over the place. The movie starts off with all that boring talk of treaties and bankrupt rulers, and even goes into a pretty hardcore battle scene between soldiers with guns and tribals with spears. You see soldiers practically crucified. There’s another scene with a man getting brutally pulverized by apes. You get a pretty up close and personal look at it too. This is pretty dark stuff. The rest of the movie isn’t nearly that dark. Yes, people are killed, and they’re legitimately tragic scenes. But with the exception of these two scenes, the film never returns to this brutality. Even Disney’s animated Tarzan wasn’t afraid to the shadowy body of a corpse being hung. Why be so dark and violent in the beginning if there wasn’t going to be any real follow-up?
Overall, yeah, I think the movie is solid. The cast is great all around, ninety percent of the visuals are amazing, and if you’re looking for a Tarzan movie, this isn’t a bad way to go. Just bear in mind that there is very boring talk when the story deviates from the important elements and side stories that don’t mean anything. By no means a bad movie, it is flawed, I’m still giving it a recommendation.
My honest rating: a strong 3/5