The Legend of Tarzan (2016) Review
Directed by David Yates
The Legend of Tarzan is yet again one of those movies that try to recreate an age-old tale about a character who’s been around in children’s literature since forever. The most recent remarkable rendition in living millennial memory is none other than the 1999 Walt Disney animated feature Tarzan, which I have to say I grew up loving (cue: Phil Collins’ You’ll be in my heart! You’ll be in my heart! Okay, enough). But apparently, there’s also this fairly obscure animated rendition of Tarzan from 2014 subtitled “The Legend lives.” And perhaps the reason why nobody knows about it is because it’s horrible (at least, that’s what the critics say, because I haven’t seen it, and I don’t plan to).
Perhaps there are a dozen other unknown (and unknowable) recreations of the archetypal tale about a young child raised by a pack of apes, whether that be on TV, on film, or in writing, and we don’t have to know them all. But the question is, given that the story has been there since since the original author Edgar Rice Burroughs published his novel Tarzan of the Apes in 1914, does this 2016 Warner Bros. rendition—created a century after—have anything significant to offer to its audience? Allow me to break it down for you.
Visually, I would say the film is good. The cinematography is ace, what with the picturesque plains of Africa, the mighty rivers of the ancient continent, and the subtropical jungles of the Congo (and the chase scenes therein). Production design is also well-done; wardrobe, props, and set design are of the quality expected of a major Hollywood production company. I would say, however, that they could have done better with animating the apes who look quite artificial and wouldn’t fool a child into thinking they’re real. I mean, Aslan from the Walt Disney movie The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe looks more stunning and convincing, and we’re talking about a film that came out in 2005.
Thematically, I guess the film has some depth. It touches upon issues such as racism and slavery, and I’m a fan of its modern use of Tarzan as a symbol for the struggle between what society would perceive as cultured and what it would negatively label as wild. If I’m allowed to do a bit of interpretation, I guess one of the things the film wants to express is how what may appear civilized on the outside might actually be inhuman in the inside, and vice versa. In this sense, I could say the film has some good points because of its attempt to comment on socially relevant themes. But with regards to the overall writing and how exactly these themes are expressed, eeerrr I can’t say I’m satisfied.
Personally I found its pacing to be a bit too draggy especially during the first quarter of the film when it takes too long to establish its characters and set up the first few blocks of the main conflict. We’re frequently bombarded with memories of John Clayton III as the boy Tarzan, and frankly I find the writer’s use of flashbacks a bit lazy. There are some exceptions, however, but the majority of them don’t contribute much to the build-up of the narrative. What I mean to say is, we already know that Tarzan was once a kid who grew up in the jungles of Africa, so why do we have to be constantly reminded of that? And is there really no other way to establish character background besides the use of flashbacks? Rather than being helpful in heightening the anticipation of the audience, the story is bogged down and made dull.
Having said all this, there was not one scene that made any significant impact in my mind. There were no moments that made me want to hold my breath because everything’s too overwhelming to take, and consequently there were no moments of relief that allowed me to relax and exhale until the cycle repeats. I’m not saying it should try to be a thriller, all I’m saying is if not for the gorillas screaming, I probably would have fallen asleep.
There were also no remarkable lines in the dialogue, no tearjerker moments (I mean, it doesn’t have to, but you know, good drama goes a long way), and no surprising turns in the plot. Quite frankly, it’s a very straightforward, hero-saves-damsel-in-distress, type of narrative. Nothing’s really new, and it doesn’t appear to try to do anything new. We’ve seen this type of story countless of times before, and do we have to see it again?
I would say that The Legend of Tarzan is your average Hollywood action and adventure movie complete with explosions and desensitizing fight scenes. So to answer my question in the beginning, I can’t say that I found anything remarkable with this newest rendition of the tale. It’s not something you would remember for a long time, and I guess it’s not trying to be that kind of film. To be fair, it’s okay, but it’s not anything great.
Personally, I would not recommend this movie if you’re looking for something that would stun or wow you, or would leave a memory of it that you would carry till you’re aged. But I would recommend it if you’re just looking for some way to get your mind off of things, like if you need to get away from work, or if your kids need their dose of tolerable, cinematic violence. If that’s you, then go ahead, watch The Legend of Tarzan and see if you’ll like it. Everything I said might just be my opinion, and I can be wrong.
Catch Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Legend of Tarzan starring Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, and Samuel L. Jackson opening in Philippine cinemas June 30, 2016 (Thursday).