Edgar Rice Burroughs has created one of the most adapted literary characters in history as his most famous creation, Tarzan, is back in the David Yates directed The Legend of Tarzan.
Starring Alexander Skarsgård as the titular vine swinging hero of the jungle (now going by John Clayton), and Margot Robbie as the love of his life Jane, the film follows the pair as they head back to Africa following an invitation from King Leopold of Belgium. Initially hesitant to return to the land where his legend was created, he changes his mind following a conversation with George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) who expresses concerns over the rumours of rampant slavery being conducted by the Belgians in the Congo.
Unbeknown to John Clayton, King Leopold is on the verge of bankruptcy and has sent his envoy Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) to the Congo to plunder the fabled diamonds of Opar. After meeting stern resistance from the local tribe led by Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) Rom is offered a deal, bring him Tarzan and they can have all the diamonds they want.
As you might have guessed from the above two paragraphs, there are a couple of plot lines at play in The Legend of Tarzan, the enslavement of the Congo tribes by Belgian forces and the kidnapping attempt by Rom in order to save King Leopold II from bankruptcy. Now two plot threads is not uncommon in any film these days, but a third is also in play as seemingly there is a competition between Tarzan and Peter Parker to see who can have the most origin stories on film. Jarringly tacked into various parts of the film are a series of flashbacks that depict Tarzan’s growth from baby taken in by Mangani Apes to the chiselled king of the jungle. The constant back and forth between these flashbacks, Rom’s abduction of Jane, and Tarzan’s relentless pursuit of them makes for an inconsistent pace that never lets the film find a groove.
Adding to this jarring experience is that each story line carries a different tone. It begins rather serious as we witness the massacre of Rom’s envoy, slavery in the Congo, and tribal villages being pillaged, not to mention the bleak beginnings of Tarzan’s flashbacks. However when all three plot lines are in full swing…the changing tones fail to mesh and the film as a whole becomes disjointed. For example, one moment we have Rom threatening to murder a tribesman by drowning him in a cage if Jane tries to escape his clutches, and on the other when Tarzan demands Williams bow to an ape to save their lives, Williams responds with “Do you want me to lick his nuts too”. Circle object meet square hole.
That being said, the film visually looks good. If you can get past the rampant and often bewildering use of close ups, and the frequent use of mist, there is some gorgeous scenery and wonderful colours on display as we jump around the various locations of the Congo following our heroes and villains to the finale. The finale itself is full steam ahead with its action, which otherwise is sprinkled evenly across the rest of the running time. It’s just a shame the camera is too close to the action most of time making fight scenes and vine swinging primarily just a blur.
Unfortunately lovely aesthetics is not enough to make a film good on it’s own, and despite seasoned performances from the cast, The Legend of Tarzan is just a wishy-washy adventure that doesn’t know whether to keep a straight face or monkey around.