Two movies out this year about two different boys raised in the jungle, and no question it’s Mowgli who comes out on top. Okay, so perhaps The Legend Of Tarzan, based on Edgar Rice Burrough’s literary classic, isn’t meant to be fun in the way that The Jungle Book is intended. Yet surely the King of the Apes shouldn’t be this dour, this dull, this much of a cure for jetlag? David Yates, who directed the last four Harry Potter films beautifully, appears to have lost his magic touch while working this adventure. He places his Tarzan (a grim Alexander Skaarsgard) in a shadowy, dark African jungle. The result is a film that’s bleached of most of its color. A starry cast and hordes of CGI animals don’t elevate the proceedings much.
The plot is familiar in bits – we get regular flashbacks that reveal how John Clayton III, the fifth Earl of Greystoke in 1880s England, was raised as Tarzan by apes, and how he left for civilization with his love Jane (a spunky Margot Robbie). But the film focuses on John’s return to the Congo to rescue his African brothers whose tribes are being enslaved by the Belgian king’s envoy Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz in a white suit but with a black heart). When Jane falls into Rom’s clutches, Tarzan goes on a rescue trail, joined by the smart-talking George Washington Williams (Samuel L Jackson), who’s on a mission to free slaves in Africa. There are subplots involving diamonds, colonization and revenge, but despite this over-populated narrative, the film moves slower than a sloth.
Not surprisingly, the best bits come as Tarzan swings his way into the forest and communicates with animals as lord of the jungle. A scene where he goes head to head with his ‘ape brother’ is especially impressive. Skaarsgard is up for the sheer physicality of his role, but looks too morose throughout and therefore one-note. His pecs seem to do most of the emoting here. Robbie, Waltz and Jackson add chutzpah, but occasionally slip into overacting, making this film a complete ham and cheese sandwich.
I’m going with two out of five for The Legend of Tarzan. This is a pale, watered-down take on the iconic hero. Perhaps Tarzan was best left in the jungle.