Release date: 6th July 2016/Watch the trailer here
The latest director trying their hand at a grown-up live action take on a classic tale is David Yates, best known for the darker spin he put on the final four Harry Potter films. With Yates’ magical touch and a cast that includes Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz, it seemed certain that The Legend of Tarzan would be a hit. Unfortunately, it’s not.
This version of Tarzan is set in the late 1800s, at the beginning of the Belgian King Leopold II’s colonisation of the Congo. Tarzan, played by True Blood‘s Alexander Skarsgård, goes by the name John Clayton now, and lives without a gorilla in sight with his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), in his family home in England. He returns to the African jungle where he grew up following a false invitation, orchestrated by the Belgian King’s right-hand man, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), who has plans to offer Tarzan to the Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) in exchange for diamonds. There’s also something about the Belgian King being bankrupt and an army of mercenaries.
It’s all very political, and not very fun. Samuel L. Jackson’s George Washington Williams comes along for the ride, for seemingly little purpose other than the comic relief role – which is much-needed, because Skarsgård’s constant brooding glare gets exhausting after a while. Considering this is The Legend of Tarzan, he’s not very legendary: Skarsgård’s Tarzan is all rippling abs and romantic glances at his wife, and not much else. He doesn’t even have a good villain to go up against: Waltz is stuck in a poorly-written role, but he plays it identically to his part in Spectre, as though he only has one villain mode and the ‘on’ button is stuck.
Margot Robbie’s Jane, on the other hand, is infinitely more interesting. She’s strong and spirited, more at home in the Congo than she ever felt in England, yet she’s given little more to work with than the part of damsel in distress.
Still, it’s not all bad. It’s a beautiful film to watch, and the CGI animals are breathtaking. As with this year’s The Jungle Book remake, it’s hard to believe that the actors aren’t working beside real, living, breathing herds of gorillas, elephants, lions and crocodiles. But there lies the issue: we’ve seen wonderful digitally created animals before this year, and The Jungle Book was miles better.
Yates has attempted to make a people-pleaser by throwing in a little bit of action, drama and romance to ensure that there’s something for everyone, but the problem is, there’s not enough. The Legend of Tarzan is so blandly inoffensive that it desperately needed more action, more drama and more passion, because as it stands, Yates has played it so safe that rather than pleasing everyone, it’s not going to please anyone.