Director David Yates
Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz
Of late adaptations of Edgar Rice Borroughs’ distinctive style of pulp have been perilous. With John Carter being a massive bomb for Disney in 2012, here’s hoping that the author’s most famous creation fares better.
When approached by a former Civil War veteran, George Washington Williams (Samuel L Jackson), to investigate claims of slavery in the Belgium Congo, Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) must put aside his recently acquired aristocratic ways, and once again dawn the mantle that made him the legend of a continent – Tarzan. With his determined wife Jane (Margot Robbie) in tow, Tarzan returns to Africa to see what changes have been wrought. However he finds himself pitted against the Belgium king’s catspaw, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), who is using him as a pawn in his own game.
This is a movie that attempts to be all things to all people, and somehow ends up being less for it. It embraces its pulp heritage while trying to rewrite its innate colonialism, update the characters while remaining true to there roots, sets things in historical context while trying to be a rollicking adventure, and tries to be an origins movie without starting from the beginning. The result is that Legend of Tarzan is horribly uneven, never able to focus on being the one thing that it needs to be – fun. It is hard to fault a film on being ambitious, but when it so thoroughly fails in its aims, it does become detrimental to what is left. Consequently there is a great sense of uncertainty about this film, as it struggles to set itself up.
Hence, we are a third of the way through the movie before Tarzan is able to just be Tarzan. Which is a shame. Skarsgard is perfect for the role, bringing both a nobility and that much needed physicality.
Robbie is also great as Jane bringing a vast degree of confidence and resourcefulness to the role. Although cast by the story as a traditional damsel in distress, her dialogue and characterisation rally against this role, making her something more. Which really makes it frustrating that this film is not more evenly handled. For everything it does right, it does something equally wrong. This is a movie over-stuffed with great ideas and poor execution, making for a bloated and patchy piece. With a bit of discipline this may have been a great Tarzan film, but as it stands it is just average pulp.