Based on the adventure novels written by Edgar Rice Burroughs between 1912 and 1965, the latest Hollywood adaptation of Tarzan, as is the post-Dark Knight custom now, takes an edgy and realistic approach to the iconic story of an orphaned boy raised by apes in the jungle. While often a lot of fun, the results are mostly a mixed bag.
Director David Yates picks up the Tarzan legend quite late in the story after he has donned his Lord Greystoke moniker and settled down with Jane in England. The threat of slavery however, calls him back to his homeland where the adventure begins. While clearly wanting to get straight into the meat of his story and not wanting to get bogged down in back story (which is all presented here in flashback anyway), Yates makes the mistake of assuming an audience awareness of the story (which could be understandable), but also assumes an audience empathy towards the character himself, which is where he comes undone. Because we haven’t actually seen him form relationships with the lions and apes he’ll later be cozying up to, the film lacks any credibility or emotional engagement at all.
Once the characters land in Africa the film goes from set piece to set piece, and they are mostly well staged and filmed. The one exception, however, would have to be a scene where the characters in true Tarzan fashion swing down from vines onto a moving train beneath them. What could have been an exciting adventure sequence is spoiled by CGI of such astoundingly poor rendering that it doesn’t quite seem possible in a big budget movie in this day and age.
The success of these large scale adventure epics starts with the casting. Margot Robbie does her best to make her modern day Jane as interesting as possible, and Christoph Waltz calls in his usual Hans Landa bad guy routine to the usual satisfactory effect. Unfortunately, Alexander Skarsgård is noticeably less successful, not because he isn’t a good actor; he does a fine job capturing the animalistic side of Tarzan. But because he lacks the charisma of a romantic leading man, and in these films after the CGI and explosions have stopped, that’s all that really counts.
The Legend of Tarzan is a big stupid run-through-the-jungle adventure film, but despite its significant flaws, it’s never boring, and that’s worth something.
The Legend of Tarzan is in cinemas from 7th July through Roadshow Films.