Hands up if you can remember the last Tarzan movie you saw? Not even the last GOOD Tarzan movie, just the last one, period.
A George Of The Jungle variant and Disney’s Phil Collins infested version aside, the last Tarzan movie with any eye on being taken seriously was Christopher Lambert’s highly impressive yet, massively traumatic Greystoke back in ’84 that had any eye on being memorable (seriously though, have you seen it? It’s truly upsetting as fuck).
Since then, other classic heroes of literature’s yesteryear have tried and failed to make any impression on modern audiences, including big screen stints for the likes of The Shadow, The Phantom, Solomon Kane and even a post-Arnie Conan, but of all of these only Antonio Benderas’ superb Mask Of Zorro gained any real traction in cinemas but even then, it’s sequel failed to capitalise so it seems this attempt at Edgar Rice Burroughs muscular tree swinger has somewhat of an uphill battle ahead of it.
Tarzan has turned his back on his jungle kingdom having long since returned to civilisation and reclaiming his birthright and while his relationship with Jane is still strong, things are strained due to the lost of their child during pregnancy – simply put, city life is starting to confine them too much.
A reprieve arrives in the shape of a formal request of the King of Belgium who has accrued massive debts while exploiting the resources of the Congo and Tarzan agrees under the persuasion of chatty American envoy George Washington Willians under the suspicion that slavery may very well be afoot.
However, this is a Tarzan movie where bankrupt white folks usually prove to hideously untrustworthy and sure enough we’re introduced to Bulgarian envoy Lèon Rom, a shifty little fucker who has done a deal with villainous chieftain Mbonga to lure Tarzan to him to settle an old score.
Attacked by Rom’s soldiers upon reaching a friendly village, Jane and some of the village’s tribesmen are captured while Tarzan and Williams take an alternative route to order to beat the villain’s riverboat to it’s destination which will involve a treetop sprint, a train heist and, most poop inducing of all, a tooth-losening family reunion with his gorilla step-brother Akut.
With numerous showdowns scratched into his day schedule that involves tense face to faces with both Mbonga and Rom, Tarzan will have to call in a solid from all the creatures of the jungle to aid him in his quest to free his wife and the slaves from a veritable army and bring peace to the Congo.
Regardless of your opinion on David Yates’ flashy Tarzan reboot, you have to admit it’s certainly cast well. Alexander Skarsgård totally looks the part as the brooding English lord – although an argument could be made that the miserable sod might maybe too brooding – bizarrely saddled with huge CGI hands due to a lifetime of running about on all fours and a voice that rarely rises above a whisper unless he’s screaming at someone in ape, the film gives him a myriad of talents from accurately mimicking bird calls to punching out a rampaging gorilla, but doesn’t actually give him that much to work with besides either brooding in London or brooding in Africa. Working well against Skarsgärd’s brick wall intensity is the utter luminescence that is Margot Robbie’s Jane, although her spunky independent nature sometimes jars against what the story demands of her – like declaring how she isn’t a damsel in distress WHILE she’s being kidnapped, for example. Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz ply their respective talents to the buddy and villain roles respectively while the film doesn’t give them much much to test them with the latter especially stuck solidly in the eloquent bad guy bracket he’s been forced to lapse into so many times before. With that being said, the moustached cad’s line in intelligent civilised brutality (plus his nice line in rosemary bead garrotings) makes perfect sense when stacked against the english lord who once ran with the Apes and has a muscled abdomen that’s as knobbly as a line of knuckles.
So far, so promising but it soon becomes apparent that the movie seems unsure what exactly it should be doing with it’s stars and legendary premise. Plotwise it plays the flashback card pretty heavily as it tries to avoid the obvious pitfalls of telling yet another origin story but unfortunately this only succeeds in slowing the main story down in a way that feels intrusive like Man Of Steel than the more natural storytelling device of, say, Batman Begins.
Oddly uninspires too are the visuals. For every stunning, CGI, jungle vista there’s some jarring green screen work to jerk you out of the moment which sadly goes the same for Tarzan whenever he hurls his body into the void to cling to the nearest piece of rocket powered vegetation. You’d assume that in a medium that has perfected flawless digital swinging and emotive gorillas thanks to endless Spider-Man movies and could produce more polished work than this in 2016?
If director Yates (most famous for darkening up the later Harry Potters) had focused less on moody brooding in the rain and more on breathless adventure, we really might have had something here, but the story simply can’t shake the white saviour complex that’s plagued the character from the start. Thankfully though, the film wisely gives the classic Tarzan moments their due. No Cheeta and no Boy means no casual animal abuse (thankfully) but the sound of a more gutural version of Johnny Weissmuller’s iconic jungle call is simply awesome, AND the film fittingly ends with a massive animal stampede that evens the odds by trampling screaming henchmen to death.
However, all that being said and despite it’s rather lopsided finished product, The Legend Of Tarzan isn’t actually that bad at all. It’s very funny when it needs to be with a nice line in quirky jungle toughness (a wound closed up with ant heads, a discussion about the merit of licking a gorilla’s balls in a pressure situation) and most importantly it sustains interest until the end and that’s that could be said of most of the movies released in a summer that lacked more oomph than most.
While hardly essential, I found this newish iteration of the famous jungle lord thoroughly decent and somewhat of a breath of fresh air despite it not being the King Of The Swingers, OR top banana… But it definitely has a nice line in Jungle Boogie…