This latest big screen interpretation of the 1912 novel Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs is an epic, grand and ambitious affair that is burdened by an overblown narrative and a schmaltzy, melodramatic tone. Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan and Margot Robbie as Jane, are excellent casting choices for the lead roles. Unfortunately, the plodding story-line is emotionally hollow and badly lacking in dramatic impetus. The film’s cause is also hindered by some truly shoddy CGI.
The main plot unfolds during the period of European colonialism in Africa, years after Tarzan’s feral childhood. The Congo is co-controlled by British and Belgian governments. Tarzan, now identifies himself as John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, a member of the House of Lords. Fully civilised and happily married to Jane, his vine swinging days seemingly a distant memory. He is called back to his roots when American diplomat George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) convinces him to join an expedition to expose the King of Belgium, who is believed to be enslaving the native people whilst stripping the land of it’s riches to save his own bankrupt kingdom. The nefarious Belgian activity is neatly personified by villainous envoy, Leon Rom (Christopher Waltz). An early sequence reveals that Rom has been promised diamonds in exchange for Tarzan’s head by an angry tribal chief with a score to settle. John, Jayne and George set off to the Congo where ghosts from the past form the basis of a perilous adventure.
The major problem with the film is the plethora of story strands that are crammed into the script. A decent origin tale is buried into proceedings and relayed in tiny snippets via flashbacks. The Legend of Tarzan doesn’t flesh it out with enough weight to make it engaging. Tarzan’s relationship with his jungle family, particularly his ape brother Akut, has an abundance of potential, but is washed over in one underwhelming sequence. Meanwhile, the depiction of the relationship between John and Jane is riddled with trite dialogue and overt sappiness, culminating with a mating sequence which is painful to behold. The central plot is overly convoluted, takes a long time to set up and peddles toward a predictable and tired final act. The cast aren’t really at fault. Skarsgård and Robbie have their moments to shine, while wise cracking Sam Jackson and sadistic Christopher Waltz add gravitas to proceedings, even though they are squarely typecast in their respective roles.
Director David Yates (director of four Harry Potter films) fails to convince with his structural and stylistic approach. The momentum of the film is stunted via overuse of flashbacks. It is also highly reliant on slow motion and Rupert Gregson-William’s bloated score for dramatic effect. The computer generated action sequences are poorly executed. Confusing camera work, vine swinging sequences that look as though they were ripped from a games console and an array of woefully artificial CG animals all contribute to the film’s downfall. Yet, for all of the technical issues, the main problem is the story. The whole thing buckles under the weight of an overloaded script. There’s a compelling film lurking somewhere in this jungle, but a more focused approach was needed to make this Tarzan yarn truly swing.