The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
D: David Yates. DP: Henry Braham. W: Adam Cozard & Craig Brewer (based on characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs). Starring: Alexandar Skarsgard/Margot Robbie/Christoph Waltz/Samuel L. Jackson/Djimon Hounsou.
The summer is officially in full swing (see what I did there). The Legend of Tarzan arrives to greet us, eight pack first. This new film finds John Clayton aka Tarzan living back in England, married, and presenting well adjusted face. You can take the man out of the jungle, but can you take the jungle out of the man?
Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) is swiftly convinced by American emissary George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) to head back to the African Congo. Once there he is to build relations with the Belgian King’s emissary and investigate their activities. Tarzan’s wife, Jane (Margot Robbie) insists on joining the trip back to their mutual homeland. Little known to the group, but this emissary Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) has bartered with an indigenous tribe. Diamonds for Tarzan and Rom will stop at nothing to control and mine through the Congo.
Skarsgard is a impressive specimen. The six foot four Swede is known to most as vampire Eric from HBO’s True Blood. Skarsgard has turned great performances in indies in the last few years, my favorites remaining to be 2012’s What Maise Knew and 2015’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Acting wise not much is asked from him, he more emotes a certain serious energy and power from his physical massiveness. This comes across best next to Robbie’s Jane whose wifey cheerleader-ness at least gives her some spunk credit. The pair have physical chemistry, but also a similar care for their childhood homeland. Alas as it is not a new story, Jane and Tarzan end up happy and together, no surprises necessary.
Throughout The Legend of Tarzan Jackson’s African-American vague government role is used to provide commentary. He is the comic relief as well as a stand in for the audience’s reactions to Tarzan’s physical awe and connection with the inhabitants of the jungle. A useful device, this eventually becomes trite and somehow balks as the seriousness with which Skarsgard performs. He hardly cracks a smile and between Jackson’s jokes and Waltz’s now routine evil foregone act, you nearly beg for an eye roll out of him. He at least gives us an actor of color with a significant role as the Congolese tribes are sort of lost on either side of Tarzan’s journey across the jungle.
The visuals of the jungle are set up gorgeously and are gorgeously self-aware. Like standing in front of a mirror for hours, director David Yates gives us all the vain moments of ‘epic’ cinema. Maybe after directing the last four Harry Potter films he needed easy choices. The best moments are between Tarzan and the other apes. Their back to back fighting is breathtaking. Each animal dominating ground and pounding gives an energy to the film that is lost in other sequences. Additionally, the sequences of Jane and Tarzan back in her childhood village give their romance and steamy sex scene some context. Ultimately, it is probably a dated property that does not need re-exploration. Everyone clearly tried their hardest though, got to give them that.