Pulp heroes haven’t done so great at the box office over the last twenty years or so. The cinematic landscape is littered with their corpses: John Carter, The Shadow, The Phantom, and The Lone Ranger. Will The Legend of Tarzan fare any better?
It is the late 1800s, and Europe is dividing up Africa. Belgium controls the Congo, but its government is bankrupt. The king sends his emissary, Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz), to try and tap into the Congo’s diamond resources. To do this, Rom strikes a deal with Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), who only wants one thing in return—Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård). Tarzan is living in London under his given name, John Clayton, with his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie). He receives an invitation from the King of Belgium to come to the Congo. Initially, he rejects the invite, but he is convinced to go by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), who is going to the Congo on behalf of the United States to make sure the rumors of slavery there are false. Jane also convinces Tarzan to take her along so she can visit the tribespeople she grew up with. Eventually, Rom makes his move and ends up with Jane in his possession, setting up a showdown with Tarzan. All the while, the history and origin of Tarzan are told throughout the film in flashbacks.
The Legend of Tarzan is not a terrible film, but it’s not all that great either. The story is completely straightforward with no real twists or turns of the plot. To some, this would be boring, and in most cases it would be. However, the action is decent and the characters are likable. The biggest issue, though, is with Tarzan himself. He has no personality. Some may say Skarsgård plays him with an introspective air, but it came across as him having zero personality. The things he can do are cool, but it’s hard to see why Jane stays with the bore. I also wanted to see more of Mbonga in this film. For the guy who wants Tarzan dead, it would be nice to see him taking an interest in his capture. Though the film isn’t one of the best, screenwriters Adam Cozd and Craig Brewer definitely borrow from the best. In several ways I was reminded of Raiders of the Lost Ark, especially in the characters of Rom and Jane. Rom, to me, felt exactly like Belloq from Raiders—a man out for his own glory, but doing a job for someone else at the same time. Jane, on the other hand, is very much in the vein of Marion Ravenwood—a feisty heroine in a world dominated by men. If only they had borrowed a bit more from Raiders in the story department. The CGI animals look great and while I liked several of the characters, some of the dialogue came across as a little too modern.
The cast does a decent job here. Skarsgård is good for what he’s doing, but I just found his character to be boring. Robbie is really good here, not content to playing the damsel in distress. Waltz plays Waltz, but he makes a great villainous character. Jackson serves as the comic relief here and he brings some really nice scenes to the proceedings, but not enough to make the film great. I also liked many of the actors that portrayed the tribespeople in this film. They were rays of sunshine in a fairly stock film from Director David Yates.
Overall, The Legend of Tarzan is a decent film, but it’s not going to win over anyone who isn’t already interested in seeing a Tarzan film. It reintroduces the character to a modern audience, but do they care anymore about this character? That remains to be seen, but I would hope that if a sequel somehow surfaces, the filmmakers spend a little more time making the story something that really stands out.