Review: ‘The Legend Of Tarzan’ Confusing And Rather Dull

The Legend Of Tarzan is a film that’s bursting with possibilities; it’s just a shame that none of them are realized. This movie, directed by David Yates (Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows), attempts once more to introduce the audience to the legend of Tarzan; the trouble is that we are all too familiar with the legend. Johnny Weismuller first introduced us to Tarzan in 1932’s Tarzan The Ape Man; Denny Miller took on the role in a reboot in 1959, Miles O’Keefe also starred in a remake of the original film in 1981, and of course, in 1999, Disney even made an animated version of his tale. Edgar Rice Burroughs fictional character has appeared in film over the past 84 years, so the need to give us any background knowledge on Tarzan is foolish at best. However, Yates thought it was necessary to give his take on Tarzan’s origin. The result is 109 minutes of continuous flashback/jumps in the narrative that would bring the most well written of films to a screeching halt, mixed with small pockets of tepid action that will leave audiences in a state of tedium.

The film starts off in the usual manner as the villain in the movie, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) makes a deal with tribal leader Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) to deliver Tarzan to him in exchange for a cache of diamonds. Back in London, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) is trying to convince Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), who now goes by his actual name John Clayton, to accompany him to Africa to investigate corruption in a couple of mining towns. Jane (Margot Robbie) pleads to accompany them back to Africa as this will be the first that Tarzan and Jane can go back to their homeland in over seven years. Little do they know, the reports of corruption were all part of an elaborate plot to lure Tarzan back to the wild.

Tarzan art

The Legend Of Tarzan narrative is stunted by the needed to continuously go back and revisit the past. While It’s understandable why Yates felt it was necessary to do something fresh and original to this well-known tale, but the result of this decision will ultimately lead to this film being a major failure at the box-office.Did Yates have to retell the origin of Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows? No, because that would have been ridiculous. Why did the audience have to know where this Tarzan came from? Every time that he tried to weave that tale in through the use of a billion flashbacks, it immediately halted any momentum the story was building. There was one instance where in the midst of an intense fight scene where Tarzan was taking out mercenaries with reckless aggression, they just decided to slip in yet another flashback.Why? It makes little sense. If you wanted to make a Tarzan film, focus on building the film around some tremendous action sequence and an original story that doesn’t have to take us down memory lane every five minutes.

The Legend Of Tarzan touts itself as being an action film but in reality, it’s more of drama with small pockets of “action” (notice how I used quotes). While the fight sequences are fluid and well choreographed, there is nothing that stands out that this film could brag about. Even the scene where Tarzan charges at the gorilla is a highly predictable sequence that doesn’t elicit much of a reaction from the crowd. I would have expected fight sequences that were more primal by design, but alas, it wasn’t to be.

This film does have brief moments of visual brilliance, as we explore deeper and deeper into the African jungle. My favorite visual moments was the shots of Tarzan swinging on the vines with the natives as he tried to jump on a moving train. The shots were crisp and highly realistic. What I didn’t get was why did the cinematographer feel it was necessary to have an endless amount of pan shots. The Legend Of Tarzan had seventeen pan shots in the film. We get it! We know that they are in the African jungle, no need to show us that through countless pan shots.

The cast in The Legend Of Tarzan is entirely underwhelming. Margot Robbie spends three-quarters of the film being a prisoner which doesn’t allow her to develop any chemistry with Alexander Skarsgård. Samuel Jackson seems just to be in the film to play the funny guy and nothing more. Christoph Waltz’s character is written like he’s the bad guy on an ABC school after school special. Remember, that this character apparently is running a slave trade and the worst thing he wants to do to his captive slaves is potentially drown them? He needed to be way more intense of a bad guy to have any sort hope at being believable.

Maybe Yates is better suited for films that come from a rich source material rather than a rich cinematic history. When given the chance to direct films that were set in the Harry Potter universe, he flourished and was able to create magic on the screen. When he’s given the ability to make choices, it seems to lead to bad decision after bad decision that ultimately results in a confusing and rather dull final product.

Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.