The latest in a long line of gritty attempts to re-imagine iconic franchises, The Legend of Tarzan is a disappointing – if not unexpected – swing and a miss from Harry Potter director David Yates.
Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) is currently living in London under his given name, John Clayton III, but is called back to the Congo jungle when an envoy of King Leopold II of Belgium, Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz), attempts to extract the rich mineral deposits situated there. With an American envoy, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), and his wife Jane Porter (Margot Robbie), Tarzan seeks to investigate Rom’s activities and ensure that nature’s place isn’t disrupted.
What a sorry, missed opportunity this film is; Skarsgard and Robbie are nothing if not perfect casting picks for Tarzan and Jane, while Waltz and Jackson are pretty much dream picks for their respective roles also. Despite their decent work on the whole, it’s only Jackson who manages to truly overcome an incredibly messy, flabby script, one that above all else is weirdly dull.
For one, it’s never a good idea to have Tarzan wearing dapper finery for the majority of a movie, all the more so when Skarsgard has put such ridiculous effort into fashioning his abs. This underpins a key issue overall; the pic is oddly talky and relatively low on action, with Yates making the audience wait and wait and wait until Tarzan is finally seen swinging through the jungle late in the day.
Even this simple pleasure can’t be purely enjoyed, because the visual effects are frequently risible and frankly pretty embarrassing for a $180 million movie; Tarzan is essentially an unconvincing, blurry wire-frame maquette swinging through a PS3-era video game environment. Elsewhere, editing is sloppy and it’s honestly tough to believe that Yates actually directed it; scenes don’t flow well, the pacing is frequently interrupted by unnecessary flashbacks, and the frantic third act is over in a heartbeat.
Though it does pop visually on occasion and Jackson does a decent job carrying many scenes, on the whole it’s just lifeless and shoddily assembled, a hurried attempt to build a franchise without due care or interest.
The Legend of Tarzan is in cinemas now