I’m not the most familiar with Tarzan if I’m honest, I have seen the Disney version of the story, but that was a long time ago, and I’ve never read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ book. That said I had liked the look of the trailers for this new adaptation starring Alexander Skarsgård alongside Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, and Samuel L Jackson.
This version of the classic story follows Tarzan, having adopted the name John Clayton III and taken up his family’s title in England. He is convinced to return to Africa when invited by the Belgian King Leopold II, so he travels there with his wife Jane (Robbie) and George Washington Williams (Jackson). Meanwhile it transpires that Leopold is broke, and has enlisted Léon Rom (Waltz) to secure some diamonds from a local tribe, who will hand them over in exchange for Tarzan. If you think that doesn’t sound very interesting, then you’d be right, it isn’t. The plot and story of this film feels like something they put about 20 minutes of thought into.
The undoubted high point of The Legend of Tarzan is definitely Alexander Skarsgård’s performance. I completely bought him as Tarzan, both as the completely feral man we see in the flashbacks and as the more civilised John Clayton looking to get back in touch with his animalistic side. The only thing about his character that didn’t really come through was him slowly getting drawn back in to being Tarzan rather than John, instead it almost seemed like a switch was flicked and he’s Tarzan again.
In the main supporting cast there is a lot of talent. Samuel L Jackson plays American George Williams, who accompanies Tarzan, and he gives a very classic Samuel L Jackson performance. As a big fan of Jackson that wasn’t a problem for me. I thought Margot Robbie, who is a fantastic young actress, was a great choice for Jane, the problem is that her character is just given so little to do, mostly just being chained up on a boat, and that’s such a waste of her talent. And as for Christoph Waltz as the villain Rom, he’s fast becoming the go to pick for a European villain. But this was very reminiscent of his character in Spectre; he’s not given any meat to get into. Waltz tries his best, but it’s just a dull character.
I think the other thing that works very well is a lot of the visual effects. The animals in particular look fantastic, and there are some stunning landscapes. However there were some weird choices in the colour palette for parts of the film (not the whole lot as some of it looks beautiful) where it just has really washed out, and dull greys and blues, which will be obvious to anyone who has seen the trailers. By having such a dull look to parts of the film it really makes those whole parts of the film feel dull.
The action sequences are another mixed bag. At times they build up a great atmospheric scene, but then this normally descends the fast cutting fight scenes that have become all too prevalent in modern cinema, and with David Yates directing it just becomes hard to follow, especially when there are CGI animals involved. However this really contrasts with a few other moments in the action sequences. For instance there’s a weird slow motion punch between Tarzan and a gorilla, which looks like the film is trying to replicate some 300-esq action. But the absolute worst of these action set pieces are when Tarzan is swinging on vines or ropes, normally through the jungle. I cannot stress just how bad and fake this looks, it really took me out of the film every time it happened.
I think that Yates just wasn’t quite sure what he wanted the film to be. The tone is all over the place, at times very dark and with this serious storyline, but then this just swings about completely when we get these almost campy action scenes where Tarzan appears completely superhuman. If the film had committed to this less serious tone then I could have got me far more on board. I’d almost say it’s worth watching just for Skarsgård’s performance, but in reality it just isn’t fun enough.