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THE JUNGLE — Tarzan is a well-known story with many reincarnations on the big screen, but this weekend will see the release of the big-budget “The Legend of Tarzan.”
With a reported budget of $180 million, Warner Bros. hopes you’re all excited to see this film and really enjoy it. Some of you may be pumped to watch Tarzan flying high above the trees on the big screen once again, but will you like it?
I have been wrestling with this question for a few days now, and the answer is going to be very frustrating. I don’t know if you’re going to like it.
There are some films like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” that I knew right away I just did not like. Then there was last week’s “The Shallows” that I immediately knew I had a good time watching and enjoyed the movie. Then I saw “The Legend of Tarzan,” and I’m still scratching my head. Right when I thought I was really liking it, something happened that just ripped me out of the magic of it all and my distaste for the film grew.
Instead of telling you if you should go see this movie or not, how about I tell what I thought worked and what didn’t and you can be an adult and make up your own mind?
I would not have guessed it from the trailers and the overall feel of the film, but “The Legend of Tarzan,” has some genuinely funny moments. Veteran director of four Harry Potter films, David Yates, managed to get some great visual comedy in that will surprise you and keeps a lighter tone for the film when it really needs it.
Samuel L. Jackson does his best to lighten that mood, but many of his jokes fall flat, but overall, when the movie tried to funny it actually succeeded for what was a welcome change of pace.
This is a Tarzan movie, so you’d hope for some really great fight scenes and action sequences to keep you entertained. Unfortunately, the film starts off terribly slow, but once it starts going and the action kicks in, it’s pretty fun, even if it’s short lived. We’ll get into that later.
A particular fight scene between Tarzan and a gorilla is very well done, as is a scene where “bad guys” with guns threaten Tarzan’s ape family. That these action scenes aren’t perfect or at all believable isn’t really the point. The point is they’re entertaining and that is what we want from a Tarzan movie.
Picking the right Tarzan can be a difficult task, but I believe they nailed it with Skarsgard. He’s a face you likely recognize, but not a name you’re familiar with. The 39-year-old Swedish actor not only looks like the Tarzan Edgar Rice Burroughs likely imagined, but he managed to fill the role with the quiet dignity and edge of madness the role calls for.
Skarsgard won’t be getting any award nominations for this role, but I think he’s a fantastic Tarzan and one that will be a standard for some years to come.
Some of the locations used in the film are absolutely stunning. There are aerial shots that manage to take your breath away. There are also moments when the computer graphics are stellar and really impressive. Savor those moments, because they can be fleeting and I’ll get more into that here soon.
What didn’t work
Tarzan is a love story between our wild hero and the love of his life, Jane. Margot Robbie is a good Jane, but the love story between them felt awkward and I don’t even want to get into the level of cheese that ensues.
There is one particular moment when Tarzan and Jane are about to get romantic in a small African village and I had to fight everything inside of me to keep from laughing out loud at the dialogue and set up. It was uncomfortable from a sheer awkwardness standpoint.
Much of the movie’s backbone is this love story and it was one of the weakest parts.
Remember when I said “The Legend of Tarzan” starts off slow? Well that has to do with the story set up and it’s not just slow, it’s often glacial. We’re here to see a Tarzan swinging from vines and leading the animals of the jungle, not see him drinking tea and rubbing elbows with old pals in Africa.
Thankfully, the movie does start moving forward, but it drops back into the “drama” and it slows down again and doesn’t resonate. I am a stickler for a strong story, but getting a great story doesn’t mean you fill up pages of the script with exposition and long conversations between characters with clunky dialogue and that’s exactly what we get all too often.
This one hurts to say because I love Christoph Waltz, but it feels like he was just here for a paycheck and some good craft service.
It’s not that he’s terrible in this film; I’m not sure Waltz is capable of being terrible, but his Leon Rom character feels like a poor man’s version of his Academy Award winning Col. Hans Landa role. Col. Landa has to be one of the greatest villains to ever grace the silver screen, and Leon Rom feels like his second cousin who is desperately trying to follow in his cousin’s far superior footsteps.
Again, he doesn’t turn on a bad performance, but it is disappointing when you think about how fantastic Waltz is as an actor.
Back to the visuals. While some of the actual location shots are amazing and a few of the computer graphics are solid, there are also some graphics that are just awful. At times, it feels like we’re in the '80s again watching a bad scene with actors on a green screen where it’s so obvious they aren’t actually in the environment being portrayed.
The CGI can be so jarring at times that it totally destroyed the magic I was feeling and ruined my experience for the next few minutes as I tried to get back into the swing of things. (Pun heavily intended.)
“The Legend of Tarzan” isn’t a great film, but it’s entertaining enough. It is frustrating that it could have been so much better, but I feel it’s something worth watching at home one night when it’s available. Warner Bros. won’t want to hear this, but I do not think it’s worth your $9.75 to see it in the theater.