I am fairly certain that anyone who saw The Junglebook, in all of its CGI splendor and awesomeness was pretty pumped to see the newest live action Tarzan movie dubbed The Legend of Tarzan. Or maybe that was just me? Seeing how well that movie rocked the CGI along with the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed the original Disney Tarzan film really gave me some high hopes for the film. More so than the trailers did anyways. While I was a bit befuddled over why they would choose a more sequel-esque story over just telling his origins, I overlooked it because the visuals appeared to be top-notch. And final result, what appeared in front of my eyes on-screen was, overall, a decently entertaining film… not great by any stretch of the imagination, but serviceable.
It’s been nearly a decade since Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), also known as John Clayton III, left Africa to live in Victorian England with his wife Jane. Danger lurks on the horizon as Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a treacherous envoy for King Leopold, devises a scheme that lures the couple to the Congo. Rom plans to capture Tarzan and deliver him to an old enemy in exchange for diamonds. When Jane becomes a pawn in his devious plot, Tarzan must return to the jungle to save the woman he loves.
On paper, this movie has a lot going for it: It has action, romance, bromance, funny side characters, awesome CGI, a great setting, an awesome villain-actor and pretty good overall cinematography. But what’s on paper doesn’t always translate to on-screen perfection. I must stress the fact that, overall, I liked the film– but I think it could have been much better with some tweaking. The end product in a lot of ways felt like a paint-by-the-numbers type of production where they chose to go with the safe bets that had the widest appeal– the movie often lacked any real heart or depth and the only scene that really gripped me emotionally was a scene at the end with Djimon Hounsou that I didn’t really expect because it wasn’t something they went out of their way to develop. At the end of the day, while the movie entertained me, it felt like I was checking off Warner Bros. Internal checklist of how to make a popular movie. Hint number 10 is to have the villain have a ‘thing’ for the protagonist’s lady so that he doesn’t kill her like he has done with basically everyone else in the movie.
Which does confuse me a bit, does Christoph Waltz just play himself as a villain? Don’t get me wrong, he plays a good villain…just… the same villain. I felt like he was the same in Spectre as he was in this film and it throws me off a bit. Its like seeing a really popular actor that you cannot see believably in a role because you just seem him as the guy he is. Christoph Waltz, for all of his monologueing and plotting, for me, might as well just be playing himself at this point. And this is not to say he did particularly bad in the film, nor am I questioning his range as an actor– I think it might be more of an issue with direction– they wanted someone with the air and bravado of Blofeld so they cast the man who played him and said “do that thing you do!” And the clichéd barf-worthy plot point of him attempting to romance Jane amounted to probably the most eye-roll worthy stuff in the entire film simply because it has been done so many times before and its annoying every time I see it.
This movie plays out two movies on-screen. One, is the ‘current day’ movie where we see Tarzan attempt to rescue his wife after she was kidnapped as well as them attempting to save the entire Congo and avoid some really angry natives. The second movie is that of Tarzan’s back story and how he became a myth, a legend, throughout the Congo. This sort of storytelling only works if one part of the story doesn’t outshine the other or, at the very least, the current story you are telling is somewhat better than the bits and pieces of back story we get. But in the case of this film, they made the back story, his origins, so god damn interesting and entertaining that I would have preferred to actually see THAT MOVIE. I found myself getting excited whenever they would do any sort of flashback.
The CGI and action sequences were done really well in this film and one thing that surprised me most of all was how brutal it was. If you’re the type of parent that shelters their kid from anything do to with death, no judgments here by the way, don’t take your kids to see this movie. They don’t necessarily show blood and gore but a lot of people die in this film, hell a whole squadron of soldiers die in the first scene of the movie. But as an adult who is somewhat well-adjusted to life, I thoroughly enjoyed that part of the movie, it was brutal and gritty and had Warner Bros. not utilized a bit of this darkness I think the movie would have gone from passable to terrible. Kudos to them for recognizing when you need to cross over into adult territory!
But at the end of the day, The Legend of Tarzan was ‘okay’. It won’t wow you or have you demanding a sequel. Nor will it have you angry for wasting your money to go see it. It entertains if nothing else and has certain aspects of it that were done poorly and some that were done extremely well. Unfortunately, it is this feeling that Warner Bros chose to, generally, play it safe that feels like the biggest detriment to the potential of a film like this. I get that you want to make sure that the film you spent millions on will have a solid monetary return but, nothing ventured often means nothing gained!