The Legend of Tarzan is a sequel to a film that doesn’t exist the same way Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland is a sequel to a film that doesn’t exist. Both films assume we know the original story, add flashbacks from the original story, and add a heavy dose of CGI effects and a grittier tone. This results in a mixed bag of a film which is entertaining, but nothing special.
Visually, this film is stunning and the landscape shots alone are entrancing.
The story follows Tarzan, now Lord John Clayton (a stoic, acceptable Alexander Skasgard) who has come back from Africa with Jane (a limited, bland Margot Robbie) where they live in his parents’ house in England. However, George Washington Williams, a standout performance from Samuel L. Jackson who brings some much needed depth and humour, is suspicious of how Belgians are managing the Congo. He believes they have taken ownership of Congo and asks Clayton to accompany him, which he does with Jane.
While in Africa Jane is kidnapped and Tarzan must rescue her and stop the Belgians, led by Christop Waltz (reprising his role from Spectre with an added moustache). While all this is happening we get flashbacks to Tarzan growing up which, thankfully, for the sake of variety if nothing else, is not the Disney version repackaged in live action as its take is grittier.
This results in a mixed bag of a film which is entertaining but nothing special.
While the premise of Tarzan isn’t entirely realistic, the film comes close to showing how such a man would come to be. We also see how Tarzan meets Jane but this is where the flashbacks end which is a problem because Tarzan’s back-story is left incomplete. We don’t see him and Jane develop a romance or see the decision which makes Tarzan go back to England. Therefore we as an audience never get to know these characters, the film just assumes we know them by their names and leaves it there. Tarzan spends most of the film chasing after Jane – because Jane is Jane and he is Tarzan – the film literally spells this out and the writers feel this is enough to keep us invested. The stakes in this film therefore are pretty low on an emotional level. The film tries to fix this by adding the tension of a group of savages who want Tarzan brought to them, but the conflict here is generic and like much of the film, devoid of any real consequences.
The digital effects vary in this film, usually depending on how fast the animal or person is moving, the faster and more blurred the better. The action also varies, sometimes well shot and choreographed, at other times blurry and incoherent and the film’s climax (which if you’ve seen the trailer you know what it is) doesn’t match the intensity of the film it is ripping off.
Its shortcomings are its underwhelming story, some implausibility, and flat characters but it has some fun moments
The film’s highlights are when Tarzan is Tarzan, his interactions with animals show more about his character than the dialogue, and his vine antics are fun to watch. Visually, this film is stunning and the landscape shots alone are entrancing. The soundtrack is also impressive and never overwhelms or underwhelms but stays just where it needs to keep the set pieces riveting.
The Legend of Tarzan was a film I had zero expectations but I give it credit for telling a different story in a coherent and reasonably entertaining manner. Its shortcomings are its underwhelming story, some implausibility (Tarzan should not be able to survive this film let alone go through it almost unscathed) and flat characters but it has some fun moments, Samuel L. Jackson, stunning visuals, and it’s definitely worth the watch.
Director: David Yates
Run Time: 110 minutes
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie