Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Somewhat Swinging: 'The Legend of Tarzan' Review
Hey, I had the time to see a non-animated movie in theaters. I will admit that Warner Bros.' big budget re-take on the ape man wasn't on my "I will see it" list, but when a member of your family asks you to see a movie with them, I say "you go"... So yes, I saw The Legend of Tarzan.
It's the very definition of serviceable.
At its core this is a popcorn summer flick. Directed by David Yates, The Legend of Tarzan begins long after Tarzan has become civilized. He's now involved in an elaborate plot involving the Belgians' imperial rule over the Congo Free State. In order to get diamonds from a tribe, the villainous Captain Leon Rom (played by a seemingly-bored Christoph Waltz) makes a deal: He captures Tarzan for the tribe, he gets the goods. It goes along swimmingly, its only major downfall being the gloomy first third.
Once The Legend of Tarzan gets going halfway through, it doesn't stop or sputter. Once in a while we get flashbacks which kind of derail the even flow of the picture, and the big problem there is... The film feels like a sequel to a Tarzan movie we've never seen. I didn't quite connect with Tarzan throughout, despite those flashbacks detailing what had happened and why the tribe wants him. It's nicely constructed and set up, but it just doesn't click. The flashbacks are also done in a very tedious style and tone, clashing with the straightforward fun of everything else in the second half.
The main adventure itself has some pulpiness to it, and feels a bit old-fashioned in some ways, which is welcome. Samuel L. Jackson (playing a comically out-of-his-element George Washington Williams) and Margot Robbie (who plays a spunky Jane) enliven the picture while Alexander Skarsgard mostly coasts. Some of the scenes where Tarzan communicates with various animals are quite nice, and the action beats hit well... But nothing really soars in this film. It's just kind of there.
With the slight exception of the boisterous third act climax (which admittedly had me grinning), The Legend of Tarzan is mostly an autopilot blockbuster. There are good ideas here, I kind of liked how they tried to tie the books to a historical event, and there are bits that hint at a better, much more entertaining classical-style adventure, but it misses. The flashbacks do little to boost Tarzan as a character, and mostly make the film slag rather than run. Tarzan should be relatable and fun to watch, instead he's the typical man-of-few-words type. Again, Margot Robbie and Samuel L. Jackson steal the show.
Despite some nice cinematography here and there, the jungles mostly looked dull. Many live-action blockbusters do this desaturated color palette thing that I, quite frankly, do not like at all. The CG on the various animals could've been better, and there could've been more punch. I wonder if a better cut exists somewhere else, because I've heard some things about this movie's... Errr... Production.
Fortunately, that slight traditional feel, Robbie and Jackson, some of the action, and its ideas salvage what is ultimately a very "there" kind of film. If you want popcorn thrills and action and some cool things, The Legend of Tarzan kills two hours with a fast pace. Otherwise, pop in one of the Johnny Weissmuller films or the Disney animated adaptation instead.