ReelBob: ‘The Legend of Tarzan’
By Bob Bloom
Tarzan, created by Edgar Rice Burroughs and first appearing in serialized form in All-Story, a pulp magazine in 1912, has been the subject of more than 20 novels, dozens of movies, a radio series, a TV series, a comic strip and numerous comic books.
As imagined by Burroughs, Tarzan, who was orphaned as a baby and raised by apes, was the ideal man — a primordial demigod — uncorrupted by civilization, chivalrous and honorable to a fault and as ferocious and deadly as the most dangerous beast of the jungle.
In the books, Tarzan, better known as John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, is an English peer. He is adept at many languages and is a cultured gentleman.
The books, a product of their time, offer a Western civilization view of the world. Characters are national and ethnic stereotypes and “natives” are mostly portrayed as superstitious, savage and ignorant.
In movies, Tarzan is most famously remembered as being portrayed as a monosyllabic wild man, portrayed by Johnny Weissmuller.
Very few of the Tarzan movies — and dozens have been produced since “Tarzan of the Apes” in 1918 — have come close to capturing the essence of what Burroughs had devised.
Hugh Hudson’s “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes,” did come close to the target, despite an amateurish performance by Christopher Lambert in the lead role.
Now comes “The Legend of Tarzan,” which treks into new territory for in Ape Man chronicles — boredom.
Most of the men who have portrayed Tarzan have been former athletes — Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe, Herman Brix, Mike Henry and Ron Ely. What they lacked in acting experience, they compensated for with charisma or athleticism.
For “The Legend of Tarzan,” the Lord of the Jungle is played by Alexander Skarsgard, who — to put it kindly — is as bland and wooden as one of the CGI trees set on his soundstage Africa.
Skarsgard displays so little emotion or expression, you wonder whether or not he actually is part of the cast. His physique looks as if he spent more time in the gym than the jungle.
Everyone else overshadows him, including Margot Robbie as his wife, Jane, who definitely is no damsel in distress, and Samuel L. Jackson as George Washington Williams, an American investigating the slave trade and other abuses in the Belgian-held Congo region of 1890 Africa.
Trying to add a modern tone to the proceedings, the film makes Tarzan out to be a friend of all animals — including crocodiles and lions, which, as readers of the Tarzan novels know, was one of the jungle lord’s mortal enemies.
The story centers on Belgium’s attempts to obtain a cache of riches, so it can rule the Congo with an iron fist. The agent for the scheme is Leon Rom, played by Christoph Waltz, in his usual quiet, polite and sociopathic manner.
“The Legend of Tarzan” offers no wow moments or exciting sequences that make your blood race and adrenaline pump.
It is slowly paced, overrun with fake CGI animals, and feels like a high-school drama class adaptation of Burroughs’ classic creation.
The underlying problem with the movie is that people who seem to have not read even one of Burroughs novels, nor understand the universal appeal of Tarzan, produced it.
“The Legend of Tarzan” is visually appealing simply because it is easy to create verdant plains and majestic jungles on a computer.
What the movie lacks, however, are real people to root for. When you find the CGI apes more appealing than the Ape Man, you know the movie is in trouble.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.
THE LEGEND OF TARZAN
1½ stars out of 4
(PG-13), action violence, sexual content, language