Tarzan has been brought to the silver screen so many times before that yet another movie about him sounded like overkill. Does The Legend of Tarzan bring anything new to the table? To some extent it does. The opening of the film explores what it would be like if Tarzan became a celebrity and tried to enter high society. While this is an intriguing setup, the standard formula kicks in once our hero returns to the jungle. Tarzan swings around on vines, rescues Jane, and goes up against a greedy villain. The film pretty much delivers exactly what you’d expect from a Tarzan movie, but kind of leaves you wanting more. It’s not the greatest depiction of the character, but it’s not the worst either.
The film pretty much delivers exactly what you’d expect from a Tarzan movie, but kind of leaves you wanting more.
The Legend of Tarzan isn’t exactly an origin story, although we do get several flashbacks involving the Ape Man’s upbringing in the jungle. Jump ahead a couple decades where Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) is living in the UK and going by the name John Clayton III. Married to Jane Porter (Margot Robbie), John is now an aristocrat trying to leave his animalistic nature behind. Yet, he still hears the call of the wild. An American solider named George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) persuades John to return to Congo Free State. Unbeknownst to our heroes, however, the evil Captain Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz) is waiting to capture Tarzan and trade him to an African tribe in exchange for diamonds.
It isn’t easy making a goofy character like Tarzan look classy, but Skarsgård manages to turn in a respectable performance. At times his interpretation of the character might be a little too broody, although he does have a better sense of humor than Henry Cavill’s Superman. Come to think of it, Tarzan almost feels like a superhero here. He communicates with animals, miraculously survives countless run-ins with death, and leaps across treetops as if he’s The Incredible Hulk. It’s over-the-top for sure, but also admittedly pretty fun to watch. Besides, it’s not like the earlier Tarzan movies didn’t have their silly moments.
Robbie also makes for a plucky Jane who completely blows Bo Derek out of the water. Waltz is basically playing the same devious baddie we’ve seen him portray numerous times become. Then again, nobody plays a diabolical mastermind better than Waltz. So who am I to complain? Jackson is also treading on familiar territory, playing the cool sidekick. Again, though, that’s what Jackson gets paid to do and the dynamic he shares with Skarsgård is rather amusing.
The Legend of Tarzan is definitely a visually impressive movie, full of lovely jungle landscapes and energetic set pieces. The CGI animals aren’t quite up there with the ones in Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, but they still have a strong presence. Of course the film that obviously inspired director David Yates the most was Peter Jackson’s King Kong. The lighting, art direction, and cinematography here constantly call to mind Jackson’s filmmaking style. It’s debatable if Yates flat-out ripped Jackson off, but the final product is a wonder on the eyes nonetheless.
The Legend of Tarzan is definitely a visually impressive movie, full of lovely jungle landscapes and energetic set pieces.
While The Legend of Tarzan excels on a visual level, the story and character development fall short. At its heart, Tarzan is supposed to be about a man torn between his humanity and animal instincts. Outside of a few instances, though, this film doesn’t really get to the center of Tarzan’s internal struggle. It’s an action flick with striking effects and solid acting. If you want to just see a straightforward Tarzan adventure, this is perfectly serviceable entertainment. If you’re looking for something deeper, you might be better off watching the Disney version instead.