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‘The Legend Of Tarzan’ Fails To Swing To Great Heights (Movie Review)

tarzan thumbFor all The Legend of Tarzan has going for it, which includes big stars, big budget effects and a proven director, the resulting film is a bland misfire. Attempting to create new interest in a 100+ year old pulp hero is not a terrible idea, but this film has seemingly no ambition to do much more than supply all the basic parts needed and hope it all works. Well, with $180 million put down to launch a new franchise featuring the King of the Jungle, it’s a shame this film has nothing to offer beyond the bare minimum of story, perfunctory levels of excitement and the abs of Alexander Skarsgard.

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You have to hand it to Skarsgard, while also feeling kind of bad for the guy. The months of regimented training required to become as physically fit as necessary to fill the shoes best worn by Olympian Johnny Weismuller could not have been easy. Still, the depiction of Tarzan this time around offers a near superhuman look that convincingly allows us to believe in a man raised by apes, with the ability to harness the powers of the jungle. It ultimately doesn’t pay off to deliver much beyond some emotional looks towards former ape friends and a couple decently sketched relationships, particularly between Skarsgard and Samuel L. Jackson, but the effort was there.

As for the film, director David Yates has put together a film from a story by Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad that hints at an even better one. Given the rumors regarding the film’s restructuring based on the initial opinions of savages test audiences, instead of a nuanced story that takes on the myth of Tarzan and deconstructs it, we have a straightforward story about Tarzan needing to rescue his wife, with some flashbacks thrown in for whatever reason.

The Legend of Tarzan starts out promising. There is a basic setup involving Christoph Waltz’s Captain Leon Rom traveling into the heart of the Congo and making a deal with Djimon Hounsou’s Chief Mbong to capture Tarzan in exchange for access to the area’s diamonds. Cut to 1880s London, where we find Tarzan, properly known as John Clayton III, being convinced to go back to the Congo and use his celebrity status to help the various governments. Jackson’s George Washington Williams wants to join Tarzan as well, but for reasons more on the side of exposing possible corruption on the part of the Belgian government.

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With all this plot setup in mind, it is now time to speak of Jane. Margot Robbie does her best with what she is given (which means spunkiness in a time of crisis), but the film mainly features Jane chained up in handcuffs or running away from something in the jungle. As she is used as a damsel in distress for most of the film, the only major sequence that actually has Jane with her husband involves an unnecessary sequence where Jane fights back at Tarzan for saying he won’t ‘allow’ her to come along to the Congo, only for him to give in anyway. Sure, you get bits of these two together, but the film basically sidesteps a key relationship, though not even for the sake of delivering a ton of action in return.

That’s the strange thing about this Tarzan film. It may have been compromised when it had to lose the more interesting concept of presenting the man vs. the myth, but it was apparently not for the sake of seeing more vine-swinging action. There is some amount of action and a few of those scenes play rather nicely, but the film has neither the guts to be more invested in its key idea or the strength to make the action overcome its other shortcomings.

With the film lacking in those areas, perhaps one could rely on the idea of lush jungles or stunning visual effects to make up for it. Well the film does and doesn’t make that work. For all the work to create a Congo setting using big sets in the UK and some work in Gabon (Central Africa), Yates still opts for the muted color palette he made great use of in his Harry Potter films. It takes away from the majesty of seeing Tarzan swinging through jungles.

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As far as the effects go, there are some sequences, mainly involving gorillas, which look pretty great. The Jungle Book may have beaten this film to the punch, but there is some implied tangibility when the actors get up close to certain visual creations. Sadly, the film’s climax pushes things way too far and ruins the level of scope as a result.

There is also the matter of what this film wants to say weighed against what we actually see. While there was a clear attempt to keep the African characters presented as a central focus of the film, it still manages to become a story of Africans put into slavery and the one powerful white man brave enough to stop it. Given how much this film gave up to become a cliché-ridden adventure, it’s not something to really linger on, but one wonders what kind of story we could have gotten if the film didn’t have to ride the waves of standard blockbuster expectations in an attempt by studios to give audiences what is believed to be wanted.

It’s not that bringing back Tarzan was a bad idea, but this film is forgettable enough to make me wonder what the point was. If there is a script out there that really delivers on breaking through a mythic figure and grounding him in reality, a much more interesting film could have emerged. Even the late 1800s setting could have benefited from a look at colonialization in the guise of a rousing action/adventure film. As it stands, The Legend of Tarzan is by-the-numbers attempt to develop a new franchise for a famed character. It had all it needed to succeed in some way, but took the path of least resistance and merely whimpered out a Tarzan call.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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