"The Legend of Tarzan" Review
It was the Summer of ‘99. I wasn’t even a year old when my parents took me to the Drive-Ins to see my first movie - Disney’s animated version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s “Tarzan”. 17 summers later, families can, once again, park their cars in front of giant outdoor screens and watch The Lord of the Jungle in action…though there are better ways to spend a nice July evening - such as seeing a better movie!
There’s a set-up to get those unfamiliar with the Tarzan story up to speed, but it just takes way too long. “The Legend of Tarzan” is set AFTER the whole “Me Tarzan/You Jane” phase of their relationship. Here they’re an old married couple. Alexander Skarsgard (from HBO’s “True Blood”) plays John Clayton, who early on yells at - but not in the iconic way quite yet - lawyer and politician George Washington Williams (played by Samuel L. Jackson) for calling him Tarzan. It’s the late 1880s and Clayton and Jane (Margot Robbie) have been living in London for the past decade as aristocrats.
But the jungle is calling John back, so he and Jane return to their African home, along with Williams as their loyal, comic-relief companion, supposedly on an invitation from the King of Belgium, who’s buying-up much of the Congo. Hollywood’s go-to villain these days - Christoph Waltz - plays Leon Rom, a shady businessman who’s actually the one luring Tarzan back to the wild - so he can hand him over to one of his former enemies.
“The Legend of Tarzan” is directed by David Yates, who helmed the Harry Potter “Deathly Hallows” finale and is doing the upcoming “Fantastic Beasts” spinoff. Yates stages this Tarzan story with slow-motion action sequences, plenty of flashbacks and lots of close-ups. The script does take a fresh angle, but the results are rarely enticing.
I realize the film is set in the 1880s, but it feels so old-fashioned and by-the-numbers. Tarzan must rescue his damsel in distress (Robbie is tied-up on a boat for half the movie) - and other than a few impressive “swinging” sequences, “The Legend of Tarzan” isn’t fun enough to qualify as a summer popcorn adventure.
The one, unique element in the film, without question, is Jackson. He did make me laugh at times, with a couple of trademark one-liners and over-the-top facial expressions. And his jet-black hair makes him look 30-years younger than his actual age of 67. That’s about the only thing “youthful” in this way too basic attempt to advance the Tarzan saga.