As tends to be the case with Hollywood, studios pay very close attention to their rivals’ release schedules, eyeing up potential competition to pit their films against, maxing box-office returns in the process.
And when Disney announced they were rebooting The Jungle Book in March this year, Warner Bros quickly responded with another jungle-themed film; The Legend of Tarzan. But does this interpretation on the classic character swing or fall?
It’s been nearly a decade since Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), aka John Clayton III, left Africa to live in Victorian England with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). Danger lurks on the horizon as Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a treacherous envoy for King Leopold, devises a scheme that lures the couple and friend George Williams (Samuel L Jackson) to the Congo. Rom plans to capture Tarzan and deliver him to an old enemy in exchange for diamonds. When Jane becomes a pawn in his devious plot, Tarzan must return to the jungle to save the woman he loves.
Directed by David Yates (Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows), Legend of Tarzan features committed performances from its lead cast, immersive scenery and impressive special effects, but all of the glitz can’t save a film that plods along at a dreadful pace. Not since Peter Jackson’s King Kong has there been a movie that wastes so much of its opening act.
Alexander Skarsgård is likeable and commanding as the titular character, but lacks enough acting prowess to tackle the deeper, more emotional side that writers Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer have brought to the table here. Therefore, the scenes featuring a solo Tarzan suffer somewhat and Samuel L Jackson feels wasted in a poorly written and half-hearted role.
It is in Margot Robbie and Christoph Waltz that we find the film’s saving graces. Their characters leap off the screen with Waltz in particular being a highlight throughout. It’s unfortunate that one of our greatest living actors is lambasted with poor dialogue however, though the script just about keeps him afloat.
David Yates brings a similar filming style here to that of his foray into Harry Potter. The action is confidently filmed, but he avoids the use of shaky-cam that many directors seem to find appealing nowadays. The CGI is on the whole very good, especially in the finale which is breath-taking to watch.
It’s just a shame the rest of the film is such a drag. The first hour is incredibly poorly paced with very brief, albeit well-filmed, action sequences not doing enough to brighten Legend of Tarzan up. Elsewhere, the use of flashbacks is at first a decent way of giving the audience some exposition, but after the tenth one, they’re a nuisance.
Overall, The Legend of Tarzan does a lot more with its iconic character than other films have done, but that doesn’t excuse its poor pacing. Thankfully, the exciting finale lifts the final act above the standard of the first hour, and commanding performances from all the cast sustain interest just about enough to see it through to the end.