Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Legend of Tarzan

Before I watched this movie, I had myself thinking that I had never seen a Tarzan movie. But then I remembered Disney's Tarzan and it's TV spinoff, the parody George of the Jungle, the comedy Jungle 2 Jungle and even listened to Baltimora's 1985 hit Tarzan Boy (here's a fun challenge, give that one a listen while you read this). But all of those had a fairly upbeat tone to them. How does the one hundred year old character hold up in this era of gritty reboots? Not as well as it should have.

In 1890, Belgian envoy Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz) has been sent to the Congo in an attempt to make some money for the bankrupt king. He comes across Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), who promises him a lot of diamonds in exchange for the jungle man Tarzan, who killed his son. In England, Tarzan is reformed as Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skårsgard) and has received an invitation to return to the Congo to tour for some publicity. He is initially hesitant to visit, but American spy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) convinces him to go after hearing rumours of slavery taking place. Tarzan's wife Jane (Margot Robbie) also tags along, but this ends up being a mistake after she is kidnapped by Rom. Of course Tarzan is there to the rescue.

Tarzan suffers from some pretty bland plot problems. After a really interesting hint at some politics and great introduction to Léon Rom, the film just kicks into regular action/adventure tropes that follows perfectly in line with, well, the legend of Tarzan. And while it's not the generic discovery of Tarzan, the return of Tarzan isn't much more interesting. Another thing I found very distracting was the behaviours of some of the animals. Everyone knows that gorillas don't swing from vines and I thought it was really stupid that Tarzan would learn this from them. I would be fine with him developing this technique on his own. There is a heavily proliferation of CGI animals at work here and while it's not as bad as The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, we really don't need a cameo from a group of poorly rendered elephants.

The characterisation is at least good. Tarzan is introduced with a shot of disfigured knuckles, a remnant of running around on all fours and although Skårsgard's accent is a bit shaky, his diet of raw eggs and whiskey is something we should all aspire to (take that Rocky). Margot Robbie's Jane offers a lot more than a damsel who's nice to look at. She works well in a sticky situation and her relationship with the African tribes proves invaluable. While I said that Christoph Waltz had an intriguing intro, he ends up being a bit of a generic villain, a thing that he has become lately. Of course, Samuel L. Jackson is there to be the good sidekick as always.

While The Legend of Tarzan promised to give us a different look at the famous jungle man, it ends up being the same old story, with all the elements of his adventure we've come to expect. The only thing missing was his chimpanzee buddy Cheeta.

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