With Hollywood running out of ideas, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing a new version of Tarzan. What is surprising is that The Legend of Tarzan is a pretty okay movie, probably the best-worst blockbuster of 2016.
There was a time when a CGI blockbuster was rare. When a big film would come out, audiences would flock to the big screen and see what sort of movie magic was happening before their eyes. Now? Well. Movie studios are running out of ideas, but they never run out of cash. So audiences are being force fed these reimaginings, forced sequels, and reboots of truly awful material. With an opening like this, you must already think The Legend of Tarzan is something to be avoided. Well, when it comes to these big CGI blockbusters, Tarzan is certainly not the worst. Director David Yates, known for his work on the final five Harry Potter movies, knows a thing or two about franchises. Sadly, Tarzan doesn’t quite have the lore of Harry, so here we are with a middling, most likely under-performing big budget movie. The cast of actors are known, but not known enough to bring in the hordes of people it’ll take for Tarzan to be a success. But it is this cast of actors that makes the movie watchable in the first place.
In the late 1880’s, the Congo Free State is in possession of the Kingdom of Belgium under Leopold II, claiming that he is using the land for humanitarian and philanthropic work. To keep things running smoothly, Leopold sends out his most trusted captain, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz). Bringing an army with him into the state, he encounters a tribe of the land who end up killing all of his Rom’s men. Rom encounters Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), who Rom was looking for in the first place. Mbongo is willing to work with Rom, allowing Rom to take diamonds and other resources if Rom is able to bring something back for Mbongo: Tarzan.
Going by a different name now, John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgard) has put his life in the Congo behind him, now known as Lord Greystoke. Word has gotten to London that Leopold is looking for help in the Congo with someone who is familiar with the land, so of course the Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent) immediately goes to Clayton, because of his past as Tarzan. Clayton declines, but is forced to reconsider after speaking to George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), who has his own motives for wanting to go to the Congo. Williams believes that, despite what Leopold is claiming, there is slavery going on in the Congo. Clayton reluctantly changes his mind and him, Williams, and his wife Jane Porter (Margot Robbie) head out to the Congo to meet up with Leon Rom while also figuring out what is happening in Clayton’s old home.
Another attempt to bring a franchise to life, it’s doubtful that The Legend of Tarzan will do enough to make Warner Brothers think it’s deserving of a sequel. I can’t say I’d disagree with them either, as Tarzan just doesn’t feel like it’s deserving of a future movie. The editing at times feels clunky, the slow motion sequences are unnecessary, and some of the writing really is just…bad, to put it simply. One of the larger issues with the film also has to be the flashback sequences, which isn’t surprising. Unfortunately, the flashbacks prove to be vital to the story, but they’re used so often and spaced out so awkwardly that when it feels like there’s any momentum with the film, it just reverts back to lazy storytelling.
Now with that said, The Legend of Tarzan isn’t a complete bust. In fact, there is a lot to like about the movie. The main core of actors, Skarsgaard, Jackson, and Robbie all proved to be up to the task of bringing this iconic tale to life. Skarsgard’s connection with both Jackson and Robbie proved to be one of the high points of the film. Yates brought together one helluva cast and everyone delivered the best they possibly could’ve. Djimon Hounsou, with his limited screentime, shows just what a powerful actor he can be when given something to work with. Christoph Waltz continues to play one of the best villains in Hollywood, although it never feels like he’s able to tap into the character’s full potential. That’s not to say it’s his fault, but there’s not a whole lot that he’s being given to work with from the script. So when it comes down to it, The Legend of Tarzan may be the best-worst blockbuster of 2016. It’s a watchable film, but it’s heavily flawed in so many ways that there are moments that will be difficult to sit through. There’s a good movie somewhere in The Legend of Tarzan, but unfortunately Yates just wasn’t able to find it.
The Legend of Tarzan is directed by David Yates, written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, and stars Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent, and Christoph Waltz. The Legend of Tarzan will be in theaters June 30th, 2016.