Stars: Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Sidney Ralitsoele, Osy Ikhile, Mens-Sana Tamakloe, Antony Acheampong, Edward Apeagyei, Ashley Byam, Casper Crump | Written by Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer | Directed by David Yates
There have been so many Tarzan movies made that it feels like it would be hard to get the story wrong. The Legend of Tarzan is a movie looking to be a blockbuster, and has the star power to do it. Why is it then that it never reaches the potential it tries so hard for?
When John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgård) aka Tarzan is invited to return to Africa by the Belgian King Leopold, Jane (Margot Robbie) refuses to remain in England, making it clear she too wants to return to the place she calls home. Accompanied by American George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) who wants to investigate rumours of slavery and other atrocities, they soon find the proof they need. When Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) kidnaps Jane, Clayton finds he needs to accept his past as Tarzan to save her.
The Legend of Tarzan is a film that in many ways takes itself way too seriously. While it is nice to see that subjects such as the ivory trade and slavery are brought into the film as a way to create an impetus for Tarzan to fight back, what people really want to see is action and less talking. For the first half of the film what we get instead is plenty of exposition about who Tarzan is, and what is happening to the country that he once called home. What really could have been easily explained quite quickly feels like it has to be hammered into us, as does the role of Jane.
Jane is a classic “damsel in distress” and is arguably a character that does deserve to be modified to become a stronger character. We know that an actress like Margot Robbie can play a strong character like this and make it believable. The problem with The Legend of Tarzan is that it is rammed into our skulls that she is NO damsel in distress, and she literally says this to Christoph Waltz (who is of course a very creepy character, almost to cartoonish levels in his sleaziness). The scene which this occurs has been seen in the trailer, but in the movie, just feels so out of place.
The problem of course is that she is literally used as the damsel in distress continually being dangled on a hook for Tarzan to come chasing after her. If you are going to try to build up a believable strong character, then let her be strong. Don’t have her just spit in the face of the big bad man who told her to scream to get Tarzan’s attention. Jane can be a strong character if written right. In The Legend of Tarzan, they never get past the idea that she needs to be saving.
When the film finally gets to show off some muscle (in both action and Alexander Skarsgård’s Tarzan) this is where the true potential is shown. We see Tarzan coming with his animal friends and natives to come save the day. This is where the film becomes fun, and you do get the feel of the true power of the Jungle as the animals arrive in force to aid Tarzan.
So is The Legend of Tarzan worth watching? I find myself saying both yes and no (which of course means it is). If you can ignore the parts where it takes itself way too seriously then the action scenes do shine, and you become invested in the adventure. When the film takes itself too seriously though and manages to get things wrong, you just can’t shake that feeling that if you want to modernise the story of Tarzan, then don’t do a half-hearted attempt at it.
The Legend of Tarzan is available on DVD and Blu-ray now.