#3: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

Director: David Yates
Action, Adventure
1h49min; PG-13

⭐ ⭐ 1/2

I wasn’t interested in seeing The Legend of Tarzan. A week before the film’s U.S. release I watched the trailer and was not impressed, although I was surprised to learn that Samuel L. Jackson is in the film. Usually I’m on top of these things but I had dismissed The Legend of Tarzan from the beginning as a Disney cash cow, which it is, albeit a somewhat shitty one. I’ve not been on board with these live-action remakes at all, although somehow I fell in love with that super-short teaser trailer for next year’s Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps it’s Emma Watson’s eyes. Even Samuel L. Jackson didn’t make me want to see this film. But my girlfriend wanted to go see it so we went.

David Yates, responsible for the second (great) half of the Harry Potter film series, is responsible for The Legend of Tarzan and while the film starts off a little strong, Yates can’t stick the landing and the film’s last 30 minutes are confusing, making me wonder how the hell we got there. I wonder if this film was the victim of serious cutting problems or if the climax is what they originally intended. If this was intentional, then Jesus.

There isn’t a second of this film that is as interesting as Yates’ work on Harry Potter.

The general plot of the film is as follows (NO SPOILERS, IF YOU’RE EVEN GOING TO WATCH IT): It’s the late 1890s and Belgium and the U.K. have split up the African Congo. They are tearing apart the land for its resources, and the Belgian King Leopold II has sent his most trusted servant Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) to secure the mythical diamonds of Opar. The land where the diamonds reside is controlled by tribal leader Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) and in exchange for Tarzan, he will give Rom access to the diamonds.

Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard, going about as deep here as in True Blood), now John Clayton III, lives in London with his wife Jane Porter (Margot Robbie). They have failed to conceive a child recently and their marriage seems a bit on the rocks. Cooperating with the U.S. government, the U.K. is looking to send John to the Congo to report on what Belgium is doing there, along with George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), and American sent to ascertain slavery’s role in Belgium’s operation. Thus John and George, accompanied by Jane, travel back to the jungle where the myth of Tarzan was created, and the film takes off.

While the plot is thin, with some extra crap about Belgium’s bankruptcy, for a while the film carries a sinister tone. Waltz’ Leon Rom is the man with a plan, as practically all of Waltz’ characters are, and for a while it seems as if that plan might come to fruition. There is an early gripping moment when it is revealed how physically dangerous the rather small Rom is. Some reviews that I have read consider that Waltz’ is phoning it in here but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film where he is just going through the motions.

Alexander Skarsgard is fine as the titular vine-swinger, and he is given little to say throughout and that’s a good thing. As Jane Porter, Robbie is also fine, although there are moments of entertaining girl power stuff littered throughout the film. The rest of the time she is a damsel in distress, just like the trailer said. Djimon Hounsou actually does phone it in as Mbonga, playing another raging African tribal leader, for which he has been the go-to since Gladiator. My problem with Samuel L. Jackson in this film is that there was not one second of his screen time in which I forgot that it was Samuel L. Jackson. I wish they had chosen a different black actor to play George Washington Wallace, because Jackson is arguably the most famous black actor on this entire planet of Earth.

I wonder if this film was the victim of serious cutting problems or if the climax is what they originally intended. If this was intentional, then Jesus.

The camera work on the first 2/3 of the film is arresting, especially the dinner table scene between Rom and Jane on his steamboat. The visual effects in the film are pretty ugly (fake) and for the majority of the film the green-screen nature of the jungle is apparent. What creams my corn in the last 30 minutes of the film, besides the narrative disconnect that is immediately jarring; there is an animal stampede that is truly embarrassing, visual-effects wise. After this shit-show, I just wanted the film to end because I couldn’t understand how the film went from being decent for an hour and a half and then shit for 30 minutes. That’s in the editing room, I guess. I don’t know what Yates was thinking, but there isn’t a second of this film that is as interesting as Yates’ work on Harry Potter.

Many critics have made light of serious racial stereotypes in the film, maybe not stereotypes but your typical enslaved Africans triumph over white people (with the help of fake wildebeests) story. I didn’t exactly get that when I saw the film, and I see how the film could be viewed that way but I don’t really care about that. I came to simply be entertained, not to analyze Disney’s sociopolitical views, etc., and for the 2/3 of the film I was entertained, even though the whole thing smells of greed.

P.S. I’m pretty sure this is the first Disney film I’ve ever seen where it was implied that two characters fucked. Sex on-screen is nothing to even blink at, but sex on a Disney movie screen had me sit up in my theater seat in awe.

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