Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 5, 2017


THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016). Director: David Yates.

John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgard), also known as Tarzan, leaves his lush life in London with his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), to take a hand in a situation in the Congo in 1890. Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), envoy to King Leopold, wants the area's diamonds, and to that end is enslaving many tribespeople, and he kidnaps Jane (as frequently happens in Tarzan books and movies) in order to control the ape man. Naturally things don't go well for Rom ... This attempt to update Edgar Rice Burroughs' durable creation is not quite a complete misfire, but it's not an especially good movie, either. In general Skarsgaard plays the role like a seedy male model with attitude instead of the King of the Jungle -- his long hair does not flatter the actor -- and Robbie, although not inadequate, looks more like she stepped off the cover of Vogue than anything else. Samuel L. Jackson (unlike the old Tarzan films, at least there's a black actor in a major role) plays a mercenary pretty much like Jackson [Oldboy] plays every role, and he just seems much too contemporary. Waltz, also the villain in Spectre, is as weird as ever. Some of the film resembles a video game, and the CGI effects -- mostly of animals -- are hit or miss, although there's a not bad protracted buffalo (?) stampede through a town. There are some beautiful scenic views but the movie mostly seems lifeless. Tarzan's origin is shown in several flashbacks, which only prevent the main story from gaining much momentum until the very end, and if anything, the characters, Tarzan included, are even less dimensional than in the Johnny Weissmuller era. Unlike the books and previous films, Legend of Tarzan has no fantasy or sense of wonder and strips our hero of his mythic stature. One stupid line from Jane seems to refer to pedophile priests in a very 21st century manner and might even be suggesting that Rom is gay. There are some good scenes in the movie, and two of them stand out: the shot of those soulful, sad and wise-weary elephant's eyes; and the confrontation between Tarzan and Chief Mbonga (an effective Djimon Hounsou). Tarzan killed the chief's young son after the boy unknowingly murdered Tarzan's mother, or more accurately the ape who raised him as her own. Frankly, any of the Weissmuller Tarzan films are much more entertaining than this.

Verdict: No charm and not much real adventure or whimsy. **1/2.

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