yes, he does the scream. he arrives late in the third act, bursting from the screen, launched like a loud and desperate Hail Mary, a final reminder that maybe this story about a man with ape-like superhero powers should be a little fun. but it’s too little, too late. the legend of tarzan ends up being a rough and tumble production that tries to please everyone and ends up pleasing no one.
Director David Yates, who inherited the beloved characters from Harry Potter and brought that series home in its last four installments, makes the wise decision to assume that everyone knows who John Clayton, Lord of Greystoke, is. The details of how he became Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, slip into the narrative in a few well-placed flashbacks, but this is not an origin story. for that reason alone we raise our short dry sack glasses and say chin-chin, like we’re jim broadbent with a ridiculous-looking beard (which he wears in his brief bookend scenes, toasting a bountiful expedition, and cursing king leopold ii of belgium ).
The story begins after Clayton/Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) is already a legend: raised by apes, loved by local villagers, able to swing from vines and bear the cold with all the rough beasts of the savannah. Now, he lives in Greystoke Manor with his fiery American wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), and serves as a member of the House of Lords.
However, powerful forces want to send him back. Broadbent and other captains of industry are concerned about the way King Leopold has cut off access to the Belgian Congo, causing economic instability. maybe our boy clayton can figure out what’s going on and stabilize things? (yes, there is a theme between old british and brussels in this movie, so start your brexit analogy engines).
Before we have a chance to suggest that British colonial history isn’t all rosy, the Get Out of Jail movie card appears: Samuel L Jackson’s George Washington Williams. Based on a real American Civil War soldier, author, and statesman who visited the Belgian Congo in 1889, Williams pulls aside Clayton, who is reluctant. forget business interests, he says he: he believes king leopold is building his empire on brutal slave labor. It is a moral obligation that they undertake this journey (with Williams instead of the audience as we travel with Tarzan).
they go and, of course, they are correct. there are images in this film of dazed Africans chained at the neck, being transported in train compartments. is voiced between a light-hearted vine-swinging action sequence and a WWE-style brawl of stunned baddies from a shirtless wall of muscle, complete with a “Bonk!” sound effect in the spirit of the three stooges. this 10-minute segment should be shown in film schools as part of a master class on mixing styles in the least effective and most inappropriate way possible.
deafness aside, the film has many problems. For starters, it doesn’t look good. most of the scenes with CG animals (lions, elephants, and especially gorillas) are in the rain, in the dark, or in some kind of fog. instead of inspiring amazement, he led me to remove my glasses and check that they were not smudged. I don’t know if the computer geniuses in the recent Jungle Book had more processing power, more time to render their shots, or just more mass, but the difference between the two films is remarkable.
There’s also the tedium of your memory story. Christoph Waltz, doing his usual wacky bad-boy schtick, is King Leopold’s emissary, and he’s devised an intricate plot to get a bunch of diamonds if he delivers Tarzan to Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), a fearsome warrior who He wears the leopard head as a hood and claws on his fists. (although he has few lines, hounsou is undeniably great in a superhero movie of sorts). Mbonga has a grudge against Tarzan, which we learn about in flashbacks. We also see glimpses of Tarzan’s early years as an orphan raised by apes, and his time as a wild beast-man.
kudos to skarsgård for not beating around the bush. he doesn’t beat his chest at all, but sucks like an ape; although it’s impossible not to laugh, he basically sells it. Robbie’s Jane (the daughter of an American professor who tames the wild man before they fall in love) is bright and sunny and, as a king in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, she hates being thought of as a damsel in distress.
There is, however, the awkward optic of this glorious white couple being cheered on and paraded around by their happy loving black friends. there are at least half a dozen images begging to be used as internet memes. Admittedly, this is no way to watch a movie, but the image making is what it is, and the legend of tarzan will make a lot of people uncomfortable. besides, few will come to his aid, because he is so dull and dumb. When Tarzan leads a phalanx of computer-generated wildebeest like Te Lawrence to Aqaba, the audience is not supposed to laugh.
This movie was always going to be inherently problematic. If the studio were to talk to any 13-year-old, they would discover that there is hardly any desire for a Tarzan movie, even if it is the shimmering jewel: a latent intellectual property that everyone has heard of. The producers have gone to great lengths to mitigate the awkwardness as much as possible, and not just by keeping Samuel L Jackson in every other scene so we can say, “Well, if he thinks this isn’t racist, it shouldn’t be.” .
there is an anti-greed message, a green message and a feminist message, but there are also stupid hollywood stories that need to be beaten. A zillion tribesmen must celebrate when King Leopold’s puppet is defeated, because Belgium never caused trouble in the Congo again, did they?
what is the best way to make a tarzan movie in 2016? find a new story to tell instead.