Me Tarzan. You Jane. Movie dull.
By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
Per Duke Ellington’s jazz standard, “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.” But sometimes, even if it does have that swing … it still don’t mean a thing.
Having more in common with Doctor Doolittle than The Lion King, The Legend of Tarzan is surprisingly lame. But you should see our hero Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) talk to the animals …
The plot mixes the fictional Tarzan legend with the late 19th century exploitation of the Congo. It is indeed a fact that King Leopold II of Belgium seized the lion’s share of the Congo Basin, using the citizens for slave labor. Here, since Leopold’s in great debt, he sends his envoy Leon Rom (a factual person, played by Christoph Waltz) to the Congo to engineer some shady deal in which Leopold can snag a cache of diamonds. Rom meets with Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), who has been itching to end Tarzan’s life for years. The deal’s set: Rom gets diamonds, Mbonga gets Tarzan. Everyone wins. Everyone except Tarzan.
Back in London, John Clayton, Fifth Earl of Greystoke, aka Tarzan, is moping around his manor. His lovely wife Jane (Margot Robbie), corseted into a pretty blue dress, is surrounded by children as she merrily teaches them all about jungle bird calls. (Which calls to mind Anna from The King and I. Is she about to burst into the song, “Getting to Know You”?)
Clayton/Tarzan is talked into traveling to his onetime jungle home by African human rights activist/union soldier/minister, journalist/author and future state senator George Washington Williams (also based on a real person, played by Samuel L. Jackson). Determined to ascertain if the rumored talk of slavery is true, George needs Tarzan’s help navigating the Congo. And, with an insistent Jane inviting herself along, the threesome voyage to Africa.
For most of the first act, there’s not a lot of there there. Everything’s nice: Tarzan nuzzles with lionesses, the couple happily reunites with old tribal friends, and songs are sung around the campfire. It turns out that their favorite song just so happens to be an ode to Tarzan. We know it, too: the apes adopted him in infancy, raised him, taught him lots of foresty stuff, he met Jane and it was jungle love at first sight. So what’s new?
Events finally heat up when Tarzan escapes from a momentary capture, and Jane is abducted by Rom. To save his love, our hero and his pals hurtle through the challenging terrain, with an overtaxed George bringing up the rear. When the group gets stuck on top of a sizeable cliff, everyone jumps. All except George, who’s unaccustomed to plunging willy-nilly to a possible death. Here, the filmmakers depict Tarzan as a self-involved jerk who doesn’t bother to help his new friend. The gaffe is obviously unintended … but sloppy.
Which brings up the filmmakers’ troubling depiction of George. The man is brilliant and accomplished in untold ways. His dress, manner and bearing all support this characterization. Yet once he arrives in the Congo, George inexplicably morphs into Tarzan’s clownish sidekick. It’s not just incongruous; it’s offensive.
The weak, underwritten script utilizes multiple flashbacks, as if attempting to elongate the movie to an acceptable running time. Similar to the fact that the Tarzan theme song is sung by the African tribe twice, we’re repeatedly subjected to Tarzan’s simian history via gauzy film snippets that recount his path from a wee tot to a muscle-bound hero. Is this stream of flashbacks necessary? Is the studio preparing us for a pop quiz? If so, will there be an extra credit question at the end?
The filmmakers are far from neophytes. Between director David Yates (the last four Harry Potter movies), co-writer Craig Brewer (writer/director of Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan) and co-writer Adam Cozad (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruiter), the lack of story, pacing and engaging drama is mystifying.
Skarsgård is perfectly fine as the stalwart hero. However, given his intense physical regimen leading up to the shoot, odds are that his physical trainer put far more demands on him than the filmmakers. Begging the question: if Tarzan/Lord Greystoke has been lounging around his manse for years, how is it that when he first peels off his shirt in the jungle, he’s buff beyond belief? Did the House of Lords provide a complimentary membership to CrossFit?
Robbie is lovely and appropriately feisty. Waltz gives us another reading of his polite-yet-twisted villain. Jackson, though hampered when his character is embarrassingly dumbed down, offers what he can.
The highlights of The Legend of Tarzan consist of the humans interacting with the glorious forest creatures, and Tarzan’s iconic vine swings. However, since all the creatures as well as our hero’s “swing dance” was created with CGI, it seems that the jungle’s not as wild as it once was.
Yet the disappointment’s not unexpected. Not when today’s Tinseltown melds with Tarzan’s iconography. Or, simply put, Hollywood and Vine.
Rating on a scale of 5 Jungle Books: 2.5
Release date: July 1, 2016
Directed by: David Yates
Screenplay by: Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer
Story by: Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad
Based on the “Tarzan” stories created by: Edgar Rice Burroughs
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou, Christoph Waltz
Running Time: 109 minutes
Here’s the trailer for The Legend of Tarzan: