Every trailer I saw made me think that this was going to be one big stink pile. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked The Legend of Tarzan. It is far from a perfect movie, but I found myself entertained and engaged throughout the entire film.
One of the best things about this movie was that it did not start with Tarzan in the jungle. In fact, the first time we see Tarzan, he is in England, running around as John Clayton, the Lord of Greystoke. He is civilized. He is speaking English. There is no “Me Tarzan” anywhere to be found, except for a few jokes sprinkled into the script. That was very refreshing. I did not need an origin story of Tarzan. And this fit the bill quite well.
John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgård) is approached by American Dr. George Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) to lead a group into the Congo, back to where John had been raised by the apes, to look into a plan by the Belgian King Leopold to colonize and exploit the Congo, specifically the use of slave labor in the building of a railroad to mine diamonds. This is a true historical situation that happened, and I like how the film used it as a backdrop for its story.
Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) was sent into the Congo by King Leopold to secure some diamonds to pay for his plot, but Rom winds up face to face with Chief Mbomba (Djimon Hounsou), who requests one thing in exchange for the diamonds… Rom to bring him Tarzan.
Of course, with John returning to Africa, he was not going to go alone. His wife, Jane (Margot Robbie) insisted on going back with him, despite any potential danger. I liked that, despite having her kidnapped in the story, they made Jane a strong character and not the simple damsel in distress. She was very capable and handled herself well.
Through a series of circumstances, Rom wound up with Jane and John had to go back to his roots to save her and stop his plan.
As I said, I really liked how they had set up the story, using flashbacks to show the most important parts of the story- baby John being taken by the ape, young Tarzan being chased by powerful apes, Tarzan meeting Jane for the first time. These flashbacks worked to fill in any blanks we might have had without having to go through the whole story again.
Alexander Skarsgård was good as Tarzan, and he certainly looked the part. How many sit-ups must that guy do to have abs like that? Ridiculous. He had a great chemistry with Margot Robbie too, making me believe that relationship.
Christoph Waltz was okay, but I did not really feel his reasons for doing what he was doing. Because of that, he did come off as one-note during parts of the film. I would have liked to have more reason for him besides it is what is good for Belgium.
I really enjoyed Samuel L. Jackson in this movie. I found his character to be very interesting, very funny and to have the most motivation of any of the ancillary characters in The Legend of Tarzan.
I thought the CGI was adequate for the movie. There was nothing that really pulled me out of the shot, though there was not the Jungle Book type of CGI either. Everything here was fine, just not spectacular.
There were sections of the story that fell apart as the film progressed, and this could have probably used another few scenes shaved off, but these scenes did not bother me as much as I thought they might.
I was surprised at how much I did enjoy The Legend of Tarzan, as I was not looking forward to it and the film has received a series of negative reviews (as of right now, 34% on Rotten Tomatoes). However, I got an early eighties action movie vibe from this, and I enjoyed the way the story was presented to the audience. There were also strong performances from Skarsgård, Robbie and Jackson.
Tarzan falls into that category of heroes, like Zorro, Lone Ranger, Conan, or John Carter, that could be considered iconic, but whose time may have passed, making a retelling more challenging. I think director David Yates and everyone involved in this did a good job bringing us a vision of Tarzan that audiences in 2016 could enjoy. It certainly surprised me.