Movie Review: Legend of Tarzan

Legend of Tarzan is a modern reboot with decent ideas, unfortunately they’re buried along the way to deliver a run of the mill blockbuster that’s no different from the other joyless summer outings of the year.

It has been years since the man once known as Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) left the jungles of Africa behind for a gentrified life as John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke, with his beloved wife, Jane (Margot Robbie) at his side. Now, he has been invited back to the Congo to serve as a trade emissary of Parliament, unaware that he is a pawn in a deadly convergence of greed and revenge, masterminded by the Belgian, Captain Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz). But those behind the murderous plot have no idea what they are about to unleash.

According to IMDB, there are 200 movie titles with the name Tarzan from 1918 to 2014. But of course, that doesn’t stop a Hollywood production studio to create another adaptation. Besides, Tarzan is such as old movie icon that he’s practically a well-known brand.

The Legend of Tarzan does offer some new ideas that hasn’t been tackled before. The Tarzan here is closer to the books by Burroughs without the white supremacist themes – he’s a superhuman of the jungle who can imitate a wide range of mating calls but isn’t the king of a non-white continent. He works with the locals who may not match his strength, but can keep up with him. Trailing behind is George Washington Williams who is based from a real character, intent on finding out if his suspicions are true. The Jane here is an independent woman who has enough of background to prevent her from being the nice white lady – she grew up in a native village and no stranger to the jungle.

The cast does well enough, with a ripped Alexander Skarsgård and It girl of the moment Margot Robbie. Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson play the same type of characters they are known for, but at least they didn’t phone it in. 

Unfortunately, Legend of Tarzan is weighed down by adventure tropes and over reliance on CGI.

There are potential themes here that can be expounded to tell us about the relationship of man with nature. Tarzan didn’t just spark conflicts between the Mangani Apes as an adopted child, he also ends up clashing with his own kind as a feral human. This required too much thinking so the movie opted to be a generic action adventure film instead.

Jane is the sassy yet still damsel in distress as she’s still held hostage to move the plot. George Washington Williams is reduced to a comic relief. He trails behind Tarzan  who chases some bastards across the jungle to save his girl. Along the way he discovers some nefarious grand scheme with the ultimate aim to enslave his home.

As par for the course there’s action but it relies too much on CGI. They’re well rendered but ends up as a jumble of unconvincing movements as they don’t resemble actual motion. In one key scene, a group of natives in white paint are confronted by apes but act as if they’re facing invisible ghosts. Skarsgård does well as the brooding upright hero who retained his abilities despite being housebroken, but there’s nothing much he can do apart from looking serious, flashing his abs, and acting with digitized animals when he’s not replaced by a CG doll. This year’s Jungle Book has twice more better action in the jungle.

Djimon Hounsou’s Mbonga is set-up as his nemesis who has believable motivations that lent some depth to the story, but this is short-lived as he gets side-aside for Rom who is basically just another version of Blofeld.

The Legend of Tarzan ends as predicted without deviating from the standard blockbuster fanfare. The movie tries to put Tarzan in a new suit, but doesn’t succeed in giving any memorable experience. It’s updated with modern sensibilities – the Nolanified superhero, the empowered girlfriend, and the racially sensitive story. Unfortunately, they’re all thrown in a typical blockbuster with a hero that is too serious to be fun, a story that is too generic to be genuinely exciting, and action that relies too much on CGI to be convincingly thrilling.

If you’re not looking for anything specific and just want to pass the time, Legend of Tarzan might to the trick. Those who want more than just predictable heroics and generic CGI should go looking for something else.

My Rating: 4/10

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