Film Review & Trailer: The Legend of Tarzan

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Frances Winston feels that this film sees some great performances, and is really good on action, but they could have used some real animals, and treated Jane less like eye-candy!

Directed by: David Yates – Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent, Christoph Waltz

There are few people who don’t know the story of Tarzan, and indeed most will have seen at least one of his big or small screen incarnations. Putting a new spin on such a well-worn tale is always a challenge, so the fact that they have managed to do it here is to be commended.

Rather than meeting Tarzan (Skarsgård) in the jungle, we are introduced to him years after his departure from the place of his upbringing. He now lives a genteel life in England, where he has assumed his birthright title of John Clayton, Earl Greystoke.

Happily married to Jane (Robbie) his former life is a million miles away, until he receives an invite to visit the Congo as a trade emissary. Initially, he refuses to go. However, when George Washington Williams (Jackson), a representative of the US government, implores him to go so he can help prove that they are enslaving people there, he relents.

Once back in Africa, it doesn’t take John/Tarzan long to reacquaint himself with the ways of the land. However, he has no idea that he is there under false pretenses, and is merely a pawn in a plan orchestrated by Captain Léon Rom(Waltz) which will see him fighting to save everything and everyone he cares about.

The cinematography is phenomenal, and enhanced by a thoughtful and imposing soundtrack. Skarsgård looks amazing as the vine swinging jungle-man, having bulked up for the role (and this is certainly milked!). He brings a truth and a real sense of being torn between two worlds to the role. There are brief occasions where you will be truly moved by him.

Robbie does a fine job as Jane, but – as often happens in this kind of movie, she is a victim of both wardrobe and dewy illuminating make up. I am pretty sure that, although channelling it, nothing she is wearing is true to the era. There’s a lot of chiffon going on for the late 1800s, and although bloomers mysteriously appear later in the movie, they are strangely absent when she is flashing plenty of leg in a less tattered version of the same outfit earlier.

She looks doe-eyed and luminous throughout, and while Skarsgård get battered and bruised, she barely has a scrape to show for her ordeal, but mysteriously loses half her clothing. This is not a reflection on her. She actually brings a lot of depth to a character traditionally portrayed as a damsel in distress. But it is all wasted, because she is being flaunted as eye-candy. (Tarzan would actually never stand for his Jane being treated like this.)

Aside from that, Waltz is fabulous as the baddie. He dominates the screen. Meanwhile Samuel L. Jackson shows that he can actually act as George. He has fallen into a pattern of basically playing Samuel L. Jackson for the past few years, and as cool as he is, it was wonderful to see him stretch his thespian muscles again, and I genuinely wanted to know more about his character.

In terms of the animals, they are all CGIs, and it does show. I appreciate there are issues filming with real animals, but I do feel that it could have made a difference to this if they had one or two genuine articles, as at times it felt a bit like the recent The Jungle Book remake. When it worked it was beautiful, but when it didn’t you were completely removed from the moment and it took ages to engage again.

Also, with this being a 21st century Tarzan, they also manage to squeeze in a serious message about slavery. While this is commendable, it does mean that it slides into preachy territory. Tarzan traditionally fueled nature v nurture arguments and discussions about the feasibility of a baby surviving to adulthood in the jungle. This new element – while a worthy message – adds nothing to the tale and actually distracts.

This is a hugely entertaining romp if you overlook the moral message (I do not advocate slavery in the least, but really it is kind of shoved down the throat here!) It looks great, it sounds great, and other than the objectification of Robbie, it boasts great performances.

Once they hit the jungle and the action kicks off, it gets truly exciting, and you will find yourself rolling along with Tarzan, willing him to succeed. You will however leave feeling slightly unfulfilled, and it’s hard to explain, but, despite the gloss, performances and effects, there is always a sense that something is missing, and it feels like it is heart.

In Cinemas Now!

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