The Legend of Tarzan

by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday July 1, 2016

Alexander Skarsgard stars in 'The Legend of Tarzan'
Alexander Skarsgard stars in 'The Legend of Tarzan'  

The tagline for "The Legend of Tarzan" reads "Human. Nature." -- a hilarious misnomer considering the film understands neither of these elements in the slightest. Its human components are obsolete, with characters defined by screenplay tropes, empty stares and abdominal muscles. As for nature, the film cites five different areas of the United Kingdom as its primary shooting locations, and creates the illusion of the African Congo (in which the story spends about 75 percent of its screen time) through six weeks of shooting background in Gabon, without the cast. Thus, it is clear that when it comes to the "natural" world, the green understood best by the production team is that of the screen.

The film's boastfully hopeful opening title card -- complete with a registered trademark symbol that caused me to burst into unintentional laughter -- aims to promise something far more to the viewer than "The Legend of Tarzan®" ultimately delivers upon. The final result is an unfinished, unfocused mess of a movie that aims to be the next big corporate franchise, yet it swings into this messy jungle of an industry with a vine attached to nothing, plummeting to the ground with a thud that resonates with lost potential.

This film could have been fun and adventurous, it could have been serious and dark, but it never seems to decide which route it wants to take-teetering with tonal imbalance throughout its duration. The director, David Yates, cast an appropriately grim tone over the final four films of the "Harry Potter" franchise, yet here, his visual style does nothing but distract and subtract from the story at hand.

Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) is now known as John Clayton III, Lord Greystroke, living out his days in Victorian London with wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), about eight years after the well-known Edgar Rice Burroughs origin story (best encapsulated, in this critic's opinion, with the 1999 animated film by Disney).

Here -- without the joyous Phil Collins melodies and vocal talents of Rosie O'Donnell -- we get the blandest take imaginable on the man raised by apes. For the majority of the story, we get stuffy and boring John Clayton III, until Skarsgård finally takes off his shirt to battle an ape in slow motion. The result of this action set piece is shoddily executed and fails to bring about any excitement -- arguably a result of having never built to any type of exhilaration in the first place -- and hardly does justice to what the character of Tarzan, in adequate hands, could have achieved in the cinematic realm.

Throughout the journey, we get a ho-hum Belgian bad guy played by a sleepwalking Christoph Waltz, as well as Samuel Jackson succumbing to the sad sidekick stereotype of the archetypal fool. For every one of the film's feigned moments of seriousness, there's an equal amount of occasions that find Jackson uttering a line about something as presumably hilarious as "licking nuts." It's a damn shame that in a film filled with apes, Jackson's character is designed solely to be the biggest monkey of them all (while also offering a force-fed voiceover about slavery in the movie's final moments).

Overall, this is just corporate spin cycle filmmaking at its worst. "The Legend of Tarzan" spends so much time building a franchise instead of a story, setting up archetypes instead of characters, and following in the visual footsteps of so many played-out trademarks before it that every single moment feels dead the moment it is born on the screen. As the narrator of "Fight Club" would say -- "a copy of a copy of a copy." This is the cinematic equivalent of an out-of-tune drunk college kid singing "Wonderwall" on karaoke night at the local pub. To them, it probably seems grand. To the rest of us, it's torture.

Perhaps most aggravating about the whole experience is how little comes to fruition on screen when you consider the film's gargantuan and offensive budget of $180 million. As an ugly, artificial CGI stampede hurtles through the film's crowded, chaotic and cacophonous climax, I couldn't fathom how so much money went wasted, and where it all went wrong.

It's a movie so painfully bloated, misguided and built upon empty money, that you may as well run it for the GOP ticket and call it the presumptive nominee.



John Clayton/Tarzan :: Alexander Skarsgård
Leon Rom :: Christoph Waltz
George Washington Williams :: Samuel Jackson
Jane Clayton :: Margot Robbie
Chief Mbonga :: Djimon Hounsou
Young Tarzan (18 Years) :: Rory Saper
Young Tarzan (5 Years) :: Christian Stevens
Prime Minister :: Jim Broadbent


Director :: David Yates
Screenwriter :: Adam Cozad
Screenwriter :: Craig Brewer
Producer :: Jerry Weintraub
Producer :: David Barron
Producer :: Alan Riche
Producer :: Tony Ludwig
Executive Producer :: Susan Ekins
Executive Producer :: Nikolas Korda
Executive Producer :: Keith Goldberg
Executive Producer :: Steven Mnuchin
Executive Producer :: David Yates
Executive Producer :: Mike Richardson
Executive Producer :: Bruce Berman
Cinematographer :: Henry Braham
Film Editor :: Mark Day
Original Music :: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Production Design :: Stuart Craig
Supervising Art Direction :: James Hambridge
Art Director :: David Allday
Art Director :: Christian Huband
Art Director :: Huw Arthur
Art Director :: Guy Bradley
Art Director :: Toby Britton
Art Director :: Gavin Fitch
Art Director :: Kate Grimble
Set Decoration :: Anna Pinnock
Costume Designer :: Ruth Myers
Casting :: Lucy Bevan