You can leave the jungle, but the jungle never leaves you. As a young boy, John Clayton the Third (Alexander Skarsgård) grew up in England with two loving parents. On a trip to the Congo, his parents died, and Clayton had nowhere to turn to, except the jungle. He was raised by it and its inhabitants, and thus, The Legend of Tarzan was born.
Now living back in England with his bride Jane (Margot Robbie), Tarzan still carries the legend but has no desire to return to his native environment. But, some potential shadiness brought to light by American George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) indicates that his environment could be in trouble, as could he. Envoy to Belgian King Leopold, Leo Rolm (Christoph Waltz) has plans on capturing the Lord of the Jungle in exchange for diamonds that can be used to essentially rule the Congo in some fashion. Tarzan must go back, to protect what is sacred to him and others.
The Legend of Tarzan, in a way, feels like a 21st century postmodern movie on race relations and xenopobia and people from other groups learning to accept outsiders as their own without flat out saying so. This could totally be yours truly overthinking this, or perhaps finding some positive in a movie during the turbulent times in Baton Rouge and Dallas over the past week at the time of this writing. The latest big screen adaptation of The Lord of the Jungle isn’t as bad as most takes paint it to be, but it certainly can be more of a chore to sit through than anticipated, at least through the first half of the movie.
Director David Yates, easily best known for his contributions to the Harry Potter film franchise, sets up the story as a part origin and part adventure story, oscillating between the two. Truth be told, a 100% origin story probably wasn’t needed anyway (how much can really be told or explored about a man who is raised in the jungle?), but the pace never gets going for this period. Visually, almost all of the scenes early on take place in the same dark jungle lighting that’s pretty obscure and just adds to the overall “blahness” of it all. It’s a shockingly serious film, almost one that forgets it is supposed to be a blockbuster.
But as stated, Yates does get TLOT going in the second half. There’s vine swinging, beautiful lush scenery, Tarzan fighting animals, Tarzan working with animals, basically everything that one would expect and desire with watching a Tarzan film. So, some surprisingly well-looking set pieces are present…it just takes a while to get to. Rupert Gregson-Williams contributes to the score, which also kicks into gear just as the movie does.
From a casting perspective, the movie is filled pretty well. Tarzan’s more of a role where if a person looks the part, they’re gold. Sure there’s speaking involved, but it is generally a physical role. Alexander Skarsgård definitely looks the part, and if there were to be a sequel, he does enough to warrant another turn as the jungle hero. His chemistry with Robbie, who plays a good and strong Jane, isn’t amazing but sound.
A bright spot is Samuel L. Jackson, bringing the humor at times. But, he feels like he’s totally in a different movie as well, with everything and everyone around him being so brooding and heavy and his character being so light, and it ends up making for an odd tonal disconnect in places. Djimon Hounsou, seemingly firmly rooted as a secondary villain in features nowadays, does what is to be expected. Speaking of firmly rooted, Christoph Waltz once again finds himself playing a baddie, and it isn’t all that different from his turns in Horrible Bosses 2, Big Eyes, or Spectre. Might be time to take another role?
The jungle should never be dull, but that is what The Legend of Tarzan is for a good chunk of its runtime. But as the second half shows, Tarzan can absolutely be a fun character to watch. You Jane, Me Tarzan, this movie, OK.
Photo credits go to Collider.com, moviepilot.com, comingsoon.net, and moviepilot.com.
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