Movie Review: ‘The Legend of Tarzan’


Director: David Yates

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christolph Waltz

Plot: An evil Belgium wants to bring an army into the Congo Basin, but can’t fund the operation. In order to get his hands on local diamonds from a tribal chief, he has to deliver Tarzan. The ape-man has spent the best part of a decade acting civilised in London until he’s lured back to the Congo under false circumstances and into the Belgium’s trap.

Review: With more than 200 movies under his pelt, Tarzan is one of the most recurring cinematic characters. That said, it has been a good long time since he’s had the live action adaptation. This movie brings the legend to a whole new generation of film-goers. Although with this plot, ‘legend’ isn’t a suitable part of the title. ‘Continuing adventures’ would be more apt and this film seems to assume a chunk of assumed understanding on our behalf. We get dropped into Tarzan’s story long after his origin and discovery, he’s now married to Jane and living a life of celebrity in the Western world. The long first act sets all this up and spends a substantial amount of time explaining who Tarzan is and getting him back to the jungle.

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It’s surprising that it has taken this long for a fresh set of eyes on the character. Advancements in CGI and film-making gives Tarzan and his animal friends a level of realism never before seen. We have the perfectly cast Skarsgård butting heads with lions, gorillas and elephants and it never looks anything but convincing. Swinging around the vines and sprinting through the branches is among the most exhilarating moments in the film. They do the character justice in these scenes.

In spite of the swinging fun and wildlife the movie gets heavily bogged down in a needlessly convoluted story and a forced backdrop of political commentary. The real story is that Tarzan has to rescue Jane from the bad guys, but we spend so much time with armies, slavery, diamonds, politics, revenge and other things that don’t involve swinging on vines that the pacing slows to a crawl. They didn’t need much more than rescuing Jane and a bad guy with a motivation and it could’ve worked much better. The high adventure swashbuckling gets undercut by the background of forced political correctness. Slavery works as a plot point, but then there’s the random trainload of bloody elephant tusks and implied sexism and racism simply to acknowledge that we don’t agree with how things used to be done. This ideal deflates a bit when Jane makes an off-handed and off-putting quip about child molestation. Hilarious source of comedy!

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Then there’s Yates’ weird obsession with draining all the colour out of his films. Scenes in London are essentially grayscale and even large swatches of the jungle look dreary. This looked fine in the later Harry Potter films when they were getting into the darker chapters of that story, but Tarzan could’ve used more colour. There’s also a frequent smattering of ‘arty’ moments, such the camera being upside down, spinning in circles while in a bird’s eye view or having sun glare obscuring the characters. Again, well suited to the magical adventures of Harry Potter but here it’s just distracting.

One of the biggest take-aways from the film was the editing. For such a big budget, big brand film there is some noticeably shambolic editing. It’s all over the place, lurching from being too slow to hyper-fast and impossible to follow. Action scenes are riddled with jump cuts and breaks of the line of action, making it difficult to follow where the characters are in relation to each other. We even get some major breaks in continuity, such as a fully functional boat being shot at with bullets immediately being half-sunk. We end up with a weirdly short climactic sequence where one of the armies don’t turn up until it’s over.

There’s plenty of fun and action in this movie. The casting is spot on and the actors are all on top form. Waltz has been in some garbage lately, but the film-makers seemed determined to tap into his Tarantino penned characters to the film’s benefit. Ultimately the shonky pacing and lack of emotional connection to the characters draw away from the fun, making this a missed opportunity for a real adventure film.

Rating: FIVE out of TEN

tarzan swinging

tarzan swinging

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