Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie star in this bland CGI-driven origin story of Tarzan that's little more than an advertisement for Skarsgard's personal trainer.
Tarzan's one of the most well-known literary characters in the English-speaking world. Created by the man behind John Carter, Tarzan's seen many adaptations over the years and all of them haven't really captured the essence of the character in any kind of meaningful. Essentially, Tarzan's a Jekyll-and-Hyde character who uses his wilder side for good. With this latest adaptation, it's using more of the visual language from recent superhero films to try and connect with audiences. Yet, in doing so, it's made it bland and largely forgettable as an experience.
Alexander Skarsgard plays the titular character, known as John Clayton III, Lord of Greystoke Manor. Despite being raised in the jungle under the care of man-apes known as Mangini, Tarzan left his home behind upon meeting the daughter of a travelling American professor, Jane Porter. The film opens with Tarzan, now an English gentleman, being offered an invitation by the British government on behalf of the King of the Belgians to tour the Congo Free State and see the many works and engineering projects in the colony. Unbeknownst to Tarzan and the British government, it's all just a rouse by literally moustache-twirling villain Christoph Waltz - who plans to capture Tarzan and hand him over to a group of natives in exchange for a haul of diamonds. Once in Congo, Tarzan, his wife Jane and his American compatriot, Samuel L. Jackson, are set upon by Waltz and his band of mercenaries and the story kicks off.
Alexander Skarsgard tries to make Tarzan into a sort of Bruce Wayne-esque character, all genteel and wounded on the outside, but hiding a darkness underneath. Sadly, Skarsgard doesn't really have the range or ability to convey it as effectively and that's one of the key pillars of the film already faltering. It's hard to buy him as this barely-restrained man-ape, so the film does the next best thing with what it has - makes him topless for the majority of the film.The supporting cast of Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz are all largely forgettable and uninteresting in their roles. Robbie is simply the motivation for Tarzan to be Tarzan whilst Samuel L. Jackson does nothing more than provide a bit of comic relief every so often to keep it a little bit jovial. Christoph Waltz, meanwhile, has absolutely none of the charm or menace you've seen him use before in previous roles.
David Yates' previous experience as one of the chief architects of the Harry Potter series of films is brought to bare on this story, using all the various tricks and flourishes he deployed there to make Tarzan interesting and relevant in age where we have actual superheroes instead of its progeny. That's fine and all, but there needs to be a much better cast at work here in order to make it viable. The constant use of CGI throughout the film - from backgrounds to lions and gorillas - leaves the film feeling truly soulless and without any kind of texture to it. Not only that, the CGI itself is quite poor, with one particular scene calling to the mind the awfulness that was the monkey-swinging from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. It's a shame because Tarzan could be an interesting story if it was done with a director that had a real vision, rather than one that's clearly working off a mapped-out, carefully coordinated blueprint.
As it stands, The Legend of Tarzan is little more than an obvious attempt to create a franchise, but with little passion or feeling behind any of it.