Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L Jackson
Director: David Yates
The Legend of Tarzan is what I call serviceable entertainment. It’s not aggressively awful. Neither is it essential viewing. It’s a lush, beautifully produced, intermittently engaging film. Of course Tarzan is one of the trickiest characters to portray on screen. The original novels, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, were first published in 1912. Actors have been swinging from vines since 1918. You remember our version with Hemant Birje and Kimi Katkar? Actually don’t go there.
Anyway, Tarzan has been kept alive for more than a hundred years in cinema, comic books and television. But this is a white superhero in Africa, who rescues the damsel in distress Jane and is the leader of not just the animals who raised him but also the local populace. You can see where this becomes problematic.
So the first task for director David Yates and writers Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer was to make the material politically correct. The film speaks strongly against colonialism. Jane is tough and so courageous that she leaps into a river filled with hippopotamuses. And while Tarzan is still the driver of the narrative, the rescuing is done not just by him but also brave African warriors and an army of digitally rendered jungle animals. Nature ultimately beats down greedy, murderous men.
What works are the gorgeous leads. Alexander Skarsgard isn’t big on expressions but he is absolutely convincing as the emotionally opaque, awkward jungle man. The jaw-dropping body is a big asset. And I loved Margot Robbie – she’s gorgeous, spirited and has enough personality to make up for the slightly bland husband. Samuel L Jackson, as Tarzan’s ally, seems to have stepped out from a different film. And frankly, I’m a little tired of Christoph Waltz as villain. He seems to be hitting the same notes in every film.
Yates imbues The Legend of Tarzan with grandeur and a sense of epic. Portions of this film, especially some of the action sequences, are literally soaring. But the film also suffers from long, turgid stretches. The adrenaline doesn’t kick in enough. I wanted to have more fun. But it’s a pretty bleak weekend at the multiplex. If you are looking to get out of home, this isn’t half-bad.