Gwen Reyes // Film Critic
Sitting in a darkened theater surrounded by a motley mixture of critics and freebie-loving audience members, I asked myself at what point in THE LEGEND OF TARZAN star Alexander Skarsgård’s (John Clayton/Tarzan) pants would tear away and his shirt would become a distant memory. As hard as the actors and creative team worked to bring this classic character back to life, that was the question for which I needed an answer. Basically, my priorities are ridiculous.
David Yates’ return to adapted material following his epic run as the final director of the last four HARRY POTTER films finds him capturing the grace and skill of a man who grew up in a Congo jungle as a member of the ape community, but who now lives a comfortable life in London society with his total babe of a wife, Jane Porter (Margot Robbie). The pair is ill-suited for aristocratic life, but that is where they are after inheriting John’s family’s estate and title upon moving back to England. I appreciated that THE LEGEND OF TARZAN does not waste any time with Tarzan’s origin. This is not film about how an orphaned boy becomes the king of the jungle, but what happened to him after and how his life is irrevocably changed when he comes back to the home he truly loves.
THE LEGEND OF TARZAN opens with a title card explaining how the king of Belgium has nearly bankrupted his country during his pursuit of colony magic in The Belgian Congo. He is desperate for money and sends his most trusted tough guy, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), to the colony to find a diamond so coveted he could save his entire empire. Well, spoiler alert he does not find it, but he does make a deal with a native tribe leader, Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), who will give him the diamond if Rom brings back Tarzan. Guys, Mbonga hates Tarzan and Rom loves torture, so this is an easily made deal.
Rom, on behalf of the Belgian King, sends John a personal invitation to return to his African home, which he accepts after a bunch of humming and hawing over the whole thing. Brood away, Skarsgård! John complicates matters by bringing his wife and new American buddy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) along with him. Yates makes Colonial Africa look so beautiful, despite how truly awful western culture was during that time. Yes, let’s just carve up a whole continent for their own good. (side note: who at Warner Brothers thought a film about a white man coming in and saving the Africans was a good idea?)
Just in case you are keeping count, John still has his shirt on at this point.Once John, Jane, and George land in Africa Rom is MAD. He is all: “man, where is Tarzan? Why he is not on this boat that I personally sent for him? How could we lose a man who grew up in the jungle?” Well, friend, he is on his own journey home and hanging out with some lions and other animal friends. John is living his best life and I want in. Especially when he runs into some elephants. Man, I love elephants.
Sorry, got off track. JUST LIKE TARZAN! Anyway, the CGI animals look amazing Skarsgård and Robbie look amazing. Everything looks amazing and the plot is pretty solid, but the film is still kind of a bore. I went in with pretty low expectations and they were kind of met? Question mark. Not presenting an origins story and trusting the audience gets Tarzan was brilliant. As Shonda Rhimes is known to say: “keep the story moving forward.” That is exactly what Yates and screenwriters Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad do as THE LEGEND OF TARZAN unfolds. It is not the worst movie you’ll see this weekend, but it might not be the most memorable either. At least you will know that his shirt comes off around the one-hour mark and he never really beats on his chest.
THE LEGEND OF TARZAN releases today.