Movie Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

“Human. Nature.”

1 Stars
The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)


Director: David Yates

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Rory J. Saper, Christian Stevens

Synopsis: In return for a fortune in diamonds, an unscrupulous Belgian lures Tarzan back to the jungle so that he can betray him to the tribal chieftain who blames Tarzan for the death of his son .

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If anyone ever took the trouble to compile a league table of the nationalities of movie bad guys throughout history, it’s probable that it would be topped by the Germans thanks to that country’s brief descent into Nazi madness, followed by the Russians and then unspecified countries from the Middle East.   One country that would surely occupy the very lowest reaches of that table is Belgium, a largely inoffensive part of Europe, famous mostly for its chocolate and waffles.   If you type ‘Belgian villains’ into Google, you’ll find that the highest ranked site is run by Belgian supporters of English football team, Aston Villa – that’s how evil they are.   But now, David Yates’s lacklustre The Legend of Tarzan goes some way towards pushing Belgium up the league table by casting its King Leopold as a criminal mastermind.

We don’t get to see Leopold, but we do learn that he’s becoming a little anxious over the way that the expense of mining for dwindling resources of gemstones in the depths of the Congolese jungle is rapidly depleting his fortune.   Rather, he is represented by Leon Rom, a polite but ruthless troubleshooter whose innate badness is telegraphed by his taste in white suits and Panama hats.   Rom is played with quiet relish by Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes, Spectre), an amusing actor who has cornered the market in villains who are vaguely menacing and faintly comical in equal measure, and who, together with Australian actress Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, Focus) as a spirited Jane, almost manages to overcome a desultory performance from Alexander Skarsgård (Zoolander 2), who is surely one of the most forgettable Tarzans to ever swing from a vine.

Anyway, Rom knows this tribal chieftain, Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou – Elephant White, Seventh Son) who will lead him to diamonds of stupendous size if he brings him Tarzan, the man he holds responsible for the death of his son.   The problem is that Tarzan is now living in England, where he has claimed his aristocratic heritage as John Clayton, the Earl of Greystoke, and mastered the art of drinking tea from fine China cups with his little finger in the air.   So, the dastardly King Leopold issues an invitation to Tarzan to lead an expedition into Africa which he accepts only after being persuaded by the well-meaning Afro-American diplomat George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson – Barely Lethal, Cell).   Of course, shortly after his arrival in the Congo, the true reason for Leopold’s invitation becomes apparent, and when Jane is abducted by Rom, Tarzan, with the help of Williams, must call upon the family of apes amongst whom he was raised – but who now consider him a traitor – for their aid in order to get her back.

In a misguided attempt to add something new to an over-familiar story (there has been more than fifty Tarzan movies over the years), Harry Potter helmer Yates’s version transforms the king of the jungle into a superhero capable of taking out a train carriage full of Belgian soldiers without breaking into a sweat.   But even superhuman powers aren’t enough to rescue Tarzan from Skarsgård’s flavourless performance, and its only Rom’s growing fascination with his feisty captive, and the cat-and-mouse nature of their relationship, which is of any real interest.   Of course, Jackson makes an eye-catching contribution, but he makes so many movies these days that he doesn’t appear to bother assuming a new identity for each role anymore, opting instead to simply play himself in whatever movie he happenings to be making that day.   It must certainly make life a lot easier for him, but he really does feel out of place in the jungle.   The entire film feels as if it exists purely to make money from the legend of Tarzan, rather than contributing to his rich history.

(Reviewed 20th July 2016)

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