The Legend of Tarzan (2016) Movie Review

By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Four Beers) –

Belgian captain León Rom (Christoph Waltz) has become obsessed with finding diamonds in the Congo, in hopes of impressing King Leopold and making a name for himself. Knowing that the largest Diamond deposits in the Congo are guarded by the warlike Chief Mbonga, Rom makes a deal to bring the Chief his greatest enemy: Tarzan.

Cut to the Music!

The man once known as the Mighty Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) has been living in England with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) at his family’s Manor for some time. Born John Clayton III, heir to house Greystoke, when his parents died in the jungles of Africa, leaving him alone, he was raised by Gorillas and named Tarzan. It is now the 1880s and Tarzan (now back to being called John) is now an international celebrity for his experiences in the wilds of Central Africa. One day, he receives notice that King Leopold of Belgium  has cordially invited him to return to the Congo on a sort of publicity tour.

itsatrap

John, Jane, and African-American diplomat George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) travel to the Congo together, and soon rediscover what it was that made John Tarzan. (Hint: it’s his pecs, totally his pecs)

A Toast

The Legend of Tarzan has many very interesting things going for it, directed by David Yates, whose work on the Harry Potter films is highly regarded. Yates gives the film a tone of believability without which a Tarzan film would appear archaic and silly. At the same time, he allows plenty of times for the campy source material to glimpse the camera, and in ways that do not distract from the film’s more serious tone.

Alexander Skarsgård is perfectly cast as the titular hero, embodying the strength and resolve, as well as the sensitivity and romantic mystery necessary to portray Tarzan.  His Swedish accent is barely hidden, but considering the backstory of Tarzan is as a man who didn’t speak English until well into his teens, it is understandable that he wouldn’t exactly carry the brogue of an English lord.  The supporting cast is uniformly excellent, with Margot Robbie’s Jane being a stronger willed version of what is typically portrayed, but the chemistry between herself and Tarzan is strong. Christoph Waltz is perhaps stunt-casting as the stereotypical Mustache-twirling villain, but he gives “Rom” a unique personality, with just a touch of Obsessive-Compulsiveness that he is clearly trying desperately to conceal.

He's a little bit Kurtz, a little bit Fitzcarraldo
He’s a little bit Kurtz, a little bit Fitzcarraldo

Samuel L. Jackson is the film’s true highlight, as he plays the outsider observer of all of Tarzan’s inherent Wildness, which makes for plenty of solid comedic moments. Seeing Jackson do some real action is quite relieving, as we’re a Baker’s Dozen films into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and still the only action we’ve seen from Nick Fury has been done seated.

fury
Every Luxury SUV has a built-in machine gun these days…

Beer Two

As much good as I have to say about The Legend of Tarzan the film is permeated by some truly distracting flaws. The first being the film’s structure.  TLOT drops you into what feels like the third film in a trilogy, much of the backstory being expected for the audience to fill in for themselves.  This worked alright for me, as I grew up watching the original Tarzan serials on Cable TV, but as it’s been 17 years since any major Tarzan story has come out (and even that was the watered-down Disney animation), this feels like a poor choice. There are generations of people who only vaguely know what Tarzan is, so this would therefore be a rare instance where an origin story film would probably be necessary.

tarzan
Is that a 10-pack? f$&# man, I gotta do some crunches…

Beer Three

Adding to the confusing structure is the decision to intercut the film with origin-story flashbacks, which slow the film’s pacing and really don’t tell the audience that much more than it needs to know.  If the filmmakers were going with the plan to drop us into the middle of a series, they should have stuck to their guns and left these flashbacks on the cutting-room floor.  Have faith in the audience’s ability to figure things out for their own damn selves. This, and the fact that the film makes numerous jumps in time between single cuts, leads me to believe that there is a much longer movie somewhere out there.  Often times, literally hundreds of miles of territory is covered without so much as a traveling montage.  When the film takes an hour to get into the heart of the Congo Jungle and a single cut to get back to the Ocean shore, you know there’s some kind of structure problem. And all the way poor Samuel L. Jackson has to run, and I thought he’d had that written out of most of his contracts.

TarzanJackson
I’m getting too old for this shiiiiiiiii…

Beer Four

Just about the entire first act of The Legend of Tarzan takes place in England, and it takes its time getting Tarzan out of that Victorian-era garb. The Tarzan those of us grew up watching and know and love does not feel comfortable in dapper suits. His resistance to going back to the Congo seemed out of character, and really made for a boring first 1/3 of the film.  Some children were in the audience at which I was in attendance and I heard one young child ask her mom why they weren’t watching the Tarzan movie (Truth truly comes from the mouths of babes). Thankfully once the film gets going, it renewed my interest greatly, and the excellent special effects and well shot action sequences were more than enough to keep my interest.

Verdict

The Legend of Tarzan is that strange, rare kind of mild failure where you can see a much better movie must have existed at some point in production, and much of that better movie still survives in this edit, in fact.  But the film is painfully, sometimes hilariously undercut by its own ambitions.

4Beers

The Legend of Tarzan (2016) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: every time Tarzan gets buddy-buddy with Animals

Take a Drink: when the characters cover hundreds of miles of traveling in a single cut

Take a Drink: for flashbacks

Take a Drink: every time Christoph Waltz smiles Evil-ly

Do a Shot: for the Tarzan yell

About Oberst von Berauscht

Oberst Von Berauscht once retained the services of a Gypsy to imbue in him the ability to accurately describe the artistic qualities of a film up to seven decimal points. To maintain this unique skill, he must feast on the blood of a virgin every Harvest Moon, or failing that (and he usually does), he can also make a dog do that thing they do where they twist their heads slightly (you know, when they're confused about something) at least a few times a week. I've gotten way off track here... The point is, Oberst is one of the website's founders, so... yeah

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