THE LEGEND OF TARZAN
(2016, David Yates)
[Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures]
[1.5 out of 5 stars]
Let me just start by saying the animated Disney version of TARZAN was a significant part of my childhood. Our family only owned a handful of VHS which I can list in full: LEGALLY BLONDE, FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, MARY POPPINS, JUMANJI, HERCULES, ANNIE and A BUG’S LIFE. I watched these movies in rotation, I wore out my copies of each and I can still probably recite their dialogue in full.
There were so many things to like about the Disney version but what I loved most was the Phil Collins soundtrack. I played the VHS in the background while I was playing Beyblades or perfecting my potion recipes from Harry Potter, or whatever it is I did when I was nine and I would always stop what I was doing whenever ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ comes on and I would cry a little inside.
So I hold the story of Tarzan in a warm, soft spot in my heart and I was expecting to be disappointed with this live action adaptation. I was.
I was excited to discover that this film takes place after the events of the Disney version. Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) is now living in society in England with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). The villain is King Leopold of Belgium, played by Christoph Waltz in a role he’s played over and over again. He lures Tarzan back into the jungle in order to capture him in exchange for rare diamonds. The story reveals Tarzan’s dark past in the jungle but not in a way that is compelling.
Yates and the screenwriters could not identify where the real drama was so everything was put on the plate but all felt undercooked. Not a single element, whether by character or by plot, was compelling because none were examined in depth or flowed into each other organically.
It seemed as if the filmmakers were given a checklist of things to include for a modern and relevant adaptation but assembled together haphazardly. The slavery narrative with the inclusion of a black character (played by Samuel L. Jackson who is also working his usual Jackson schtick) could have provided some depth but felt perfunctory. The not-a-damsel-in-distress interpretation of Jane’s character was under-utilised (seriously, can someone give Robbie a good role already) and Tarzan’s dark past seemed to exist purely to have a story set up and a conflict to resolve but on its own is neither engaging or interesting.
It is beautiful to look at with some gorgeous establishing shots of the jungle and the fades and deep focus are used effectively to highlight bodily gestures and emotions. There are occasional bizarre camerawork though, like a simple conversation shot in a continuously rotating camera with match cuts that was unnecessary and distracting. But the real letdown was the script. It tries to leap but falls flat on the ground.