The Legend of Tarzan (aka Tarzan) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The Legend of Tarzan, despite its seemingly darker tone for a modern era, is a purely pulp piece of filmmaking. It’d have to be for such material of a man swinging through vines in the jungle and battling with apes. There’s an attempt to make this Tarzan a little more subtle, but it only goes so far as actually giving the man of the jungle some pants. After all, the hero deserves a little bit of dignity.
The hero is introduced as John Clayton (a muscular Alexander Skarsgård), now civilized in the English world with his vine-swinging days behind him and settling down with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). Donning a suit as his true name becomes a myth, he’s called out of retirement to resolve an incident in the Congo with the traditionally evil Captain Rom, played with some chipper smugness by Christoph Waltz. Aided by Civil War veteran George Williams (Samuel L. Jackson in comic relief mode), it isn’t long before John finds himself back in his element. He scales trees, faces off against apes, communicates with the animals, catches up with old tribal friends and sets off another adventure to save Jane and stop the villain.
There’s nothing inherently deep about Tarzan’s lore, but the movie attempts to dig some emotion out of this light story. John’s memories of the jungle conjure up some striking imagery of his unique childhood among apes. His hands still bear the bone structure and scars of a man who could climb just about anything, a display that entices local children to learn more about him. The romance between Tarzan and Jane has some amount of passion in their tender embraces and nights of embrace. It’s not as effective as it should be, but at least there is something more to their relationship than just “him Tarzan, she Jane”.
For the most part, however, this is by-the-book action-adventure territory with all the expected bells and whistles. Alexander Skarsgård swings from tree to massive tree with grace, beats down gorillas and punches out an entire train car of goons. Margot Robbie savors a few moments of outwitting the villain in between her fragile sensibilities as a damsel. Samuel L. Jackson plays to the audience as the snappy sidekick that always has an expletive or a joke to cap a scene. Christoph Waltz does his usual sneering and cackling, but not at his fullest of potential in a picture where he seems to have been given just enough tranquilizers to calm down. And there are plenty of CGI jungle animals roaming around the Congo to make for some grand scenes of chases and chaos. The animals appear decent in most scenes, but the effects teams were a little too confident in a 3D showcase the scene that features a close-up of an ostrich nipping at the screen.
The Legend of Tarzan mostly fulfills its adventure promise and little more. It’s well paced, has some fun action scenes and just enough wit to overlook some of the more timid performances. This is more-or-less a return to Tarzan’s classic appeal as opposed to a more modern revisioning of the cartoonish vision of the Congo. There’s not much to this Tarzan, but maybe there never was as many rationalize that his character is a relic of the past. Perhaps so, but I can’t fault it for showcasing what made Tarzan so appealing in the first place, scars and all.