Director: David Yates
Writers: Adam Cozard, Craig Brewer (screenplay), Edgar Rice Burroughs (novel)
Stars: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz
Release date: July 7th, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 110 minutes
Best part: Samuel L. Jackson.
Worst part: The inconsistent visual effects.
Dear Hollywood, no one on Earth was asking for a ‘dark and gritty’ reboot of Tarzan. In fact, everyone is sick of those words being the basis for every reboot, reimagining and rejigging from the past ten years. 2016 in film, so far, proves tinseltown is having a major identity crisis. Almost every sequel has bombed, the smaller genre flicks have gone gangbusters and we responded to Zac Efron’s comedies with a collective shrug. What an age we live in!
Like The Lone Ranger and The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Legend of Tarzan brings an old-school franchise into the 21st Century. Sadly, it resembles the former – a bloated, out-of-touch product that should have stayed hidden. Based on acclaimed author Edgar Rice Burroughs famous stories, this reboot does start promisingly. After the Berlin Conference, the United Kingdom and Belgium divided up the Congo. The Belgian government is close to bankruptcy and left with a useless railroad and other infrastructure. King Leopold of Belgium II sends Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) to claim mineral deposits including the diamonds of Opar, protected by Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou). Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent) and US envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) convince John Clayton III/Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) to return to Africa and become Lord of the Apes once again.
Tarzan – despite leading multiple films, books, serials etc. – came from a more ‘innocent’ era in the Western world. This version attempts an elaborate balancing act between classic action-adventure and revisionist perspective. It’s a refreshing premise; throwing us into a world already aware of Tarzan’s existence. Screenwriters Adam Cozard and Craig Brewer manufacture false drama from the outset. The first act spins its wheels as the Tarzan rejects the offer, mulls it over with wife Jane (Margot Robbie), and agrees to tag along. From there, the movie leaps between plot-holes and overused plot-points. Its colonialist overtones are wholly uncomfortable, with every scene showing this impressive white man coming to native Africa’s rescue.
Despite mediocre results, director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to The Deathly Hallows Part 2) swings for the fences. The director juggles Tarzan’s backstory (his parents’ deaths, an upbringing helped by apes, reason for leaving etc.) at inopportune moments with narration and flashbacks. His vision forcefully compares the Belgian Congo and American Civil War’s atrocities. The mix of fictional aura and historical events calls Hollywood’s racial politics into question. Yates’ visual style distorts every frame with anachronisms, confusing camerawork and sepia tone, while the action sequences and CGI are shoddily handled. Worse still, bland performances by Skarsgard, Robbie and Waltz are inexcusable. Jackson, thankfully, provides some much-needed levity and charisma.
The Legend of Tarzan, like the many animals in starring roles, is a fascinating but destructive creation. Despite the cute comedic timing and aim-high attitude, this reboot/reimagining/whatever proves a worthwhile director, cast and budget can falter spectacularly.