God almighty, did I loathe this movie—nearly every second of it is worthy of some level of spite, but most of my complaints seem to circle around its lazy filmmaking. That makes it all the more surprising that the director is David Yates, who gave us the last handful of HARRY POTTER films, all of which are quite good. Based on the Tarzan stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs (adapted by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer), the story takes place after all of the classic Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) adventures are long in the past, in a sort of “After MASH” version of his life story that picks things up years after he has left the jungle for a more conventional life in London, with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) and a gaggle of admirers still wanting him to tell stories of his jungle years.
Now known as John Clayton (or Lord Greystoke), Tarzan is convinced to return to his old home in the Congo, when deceptive prospector Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) is digging up the diamonds of the land using secretly gathered slaves to do his digging. Tarzan is persuaded to remove his shoes and head back to Africa by American investigator George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), who is more curious about confirming the return of slavery than anything else, but the two make a worthy team, as they revisit Tarzan’s old haunts and old friends (both human and animal). But when Rom shows up and starts kidnapping and/or killing Tarzan’s loved ones, he strips down to his torn jungle pants (sorry ladies, no loin cloth for Skarsgård) and begins letting the nature boy side of things take over.
THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is so generically flat that it feels desperate. What is the point of this film? Is it to present vast, largely artificial jungle-scapes? Or give us computer-generated animals for Tarzan to cavort with? Nothing about either of those options comes across as necessary once you see them in glorious 3-D.
I happen to find Alexander Skarsgård a fairly compelling and solid actor, going back to his work in the HBO series “Generation Kill” and “True Blood,” through to such varied works as MELANCHOLIA, STRAW DOGS, WHAT MAISIE KNEW, THE EAST, and last year’s THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL. He’s got another film coming out later this year called WAR ON EVERYONE, in which his deadpan delivery is so funny that he steals man scenes from Michael Peña with just a lift of an eyebrow. But he’s giving us nothing as Tarzan beyond a finely sculpted set of abs (which I’m well aware is enough for some people). Robbie doesn’t fare much better. Although Jane isn’t quite the damsel in distress that she’s been in the past, the character is still relegated to becoming someone who needs to be saved, while she wisecracks her way in the face of danger.
Perhaps the strangest character in the mix is that of Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), a tribal leader who wants Tarzan delivered to him by Rom before he’ll agree to sign over certain lands for diamond excavation. His hatred for Tarzan is something of a mystery for a time, but when it’s revealed, it’s not really anything we couldn’t have guessed, and probably did.
I’m already bored discussing this gross misstep into the world of Tarzan. We weren’t forced to watch a great number of flashback sequences that show us the Tarzan origin story, for lack of a better phrase, as well as his first interactions with Jane. Spoiler alert: He might have been naked. It looks like the filmmakers spent a lot of money to make THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, and the only thing I got out of it is that the Belgians at the time were a low-down people for introducing slavery to the Congo. If you discover anything beyond that, please let me know. Feel free to skip this one.