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home TV & Film The Legend of Tarzan – Film Review

The Legend of Tarzan – Film Review

As most of you probably don’t know, every Saturday I take a ferry over to the Vancouver mainland to spend the day with my daughter. For about eight months now, the last piece of our daily ritual has become taking in a film, a nice way to unwind from several hours of physical activity and gorge ourselves on popcorn and brain candy. I’ve decided to start doing a review of the movies we see if for no other reason to give me something  a bit lighter to think and write about than people constantly being racist and sexist.

It should go without saying that these reviews will be spoiler heavy, but there you go, I’ve said it anyway.

My daughter turned 4 last march and so a sort of unwritten rule that I have, re the film we watch, is that I take her to the most age appropriate movie available in the two theaters in our vicinity which we haven’t already seen. So as much as I would have loved the excuse to take her to Independence Day II, this weekend found me choosing between the Tarzan reboot and Spielberg’s BFG, which I assume stands for Big Fucking Giant.

I couldn’t personally honestly have less interest in either of these films, and while BFG is arguably more age appropriate, it was also playing at the further away of the two theaters, which was the deciding factor in taking the kid to see The Legend of Tarzan. So without further ado, here’s my take away from what is promising to be this summer’s lukewarmest blockbuster.

Rom steals the show in Legend of Tarzan

The Good

Fresh(ish) Take

I like the fact that this story takes place years after Tarzan has left the jungle and become a civilized English lord, it’s a different take on the story which helps lend it some originality in terms of concept

Casting

The cast does a good job of holding together a fairly mediocre script. As someone who got sucked into the harlequin romance-esque world of binge watching True Blood a couple years ago, I have to begrudgingly admit that I’m a fan of Alexander Skarsgård, and he doesn’t fail to bring his glamouring Scandinavian charm to the role of the lord of the jungle. He’s not exactly a bankable star, but maybe he should be and it’s nice to see him given a shot at the Big Show, even if this particular vehicle might well be doomed to relative historical obscurity.

Margot Robbie, of upcoming Suicide Squad fame, is a serviceable Jane, which is to say she certainly has the look, and does a noble job of trying to bring some vim to the mostly sidelined character, but she doesn’t have a whole lot to work with in a role that would arguably fail the sexy lamp test.

Probably my least favorite casting choice was placing Steve Harvey’s mustache in the role of Samuel L. Jackson. Look, I love Sammy L as much as the next guy, but we all know this guy just plays himself in every single film, and I’m not sure this is the movie begging for that particular timbre.

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Who really steals the show, however, is Christoph Waltz in the role of the film’s Belgian antagonist, Leon Rom. Christoph brings a performance that is at virtually all times both chilling and humorous, an almost unimaginable feat and setting the perfect tone for the villain in a film like Tarzan. There’s just something really compelling about his presence in this role and he’s definitely someone that will have a higher presence on my radar going forward.

Production

Where this otherwise lackluster movie really shines is in it’s production value. With a nothing-to-scoff-at budget of 180 million, which is a lot for a movie not starring Tom Cruise, everything from the sets to the costumes to the cinematography to the lighting to the CGI were all top quality stuff, almost to the point where it felt like a shame to waste so much quality talent on such a mundanely derivative story. Seriously, I’m not the type of guy to normally sit at a movie and think, gawdamn that’s some nice camera work, and would you just look at the contrast here, but Tarzan had me thinking those type of thoughts the whole way through. The colors popped. Is this that new fangled 4k technology I’ve been hearing about? This right here is the reason to see this in theaters, if you’re going to see it at all.

Tarzan Fights His Brother

My favorite moment of the film, and it comes a bit prematurely, unfortunately, is when Tarzan faces off against his ape brother in a brutal show of dominance. The lead up is legitimately suspenseful as these apes are the most fierce CGI apes we’ve seen on screen yet, and the fight is appropriately short and savage. The best part is that, against my prediction going into the confrontation, Tarzan actually loses, an outcome that is realistic, or at least more realistic than Tarzan winning, it’s still obviously fake that the ape didn’t break every bone in his back with a single hammering blow.

Tarzan fights his brother

The Bad

Banal Script

The Legend of Tarzan is, and I sort of doubt this will come as a surprise to anyone, is predictably derivative in the extreme.

Not Enough Jokes

It really needed some more humor beats to keep the fun factor going. There is one really good joke, right after the aforementioned fraternal conflict, where Tarzan in bro-humourly fashion implies that Samuel L Jackson needs to lick the ape’s balls to show submission, and later Tarzan jokingly ribs his friend with comments like ‘You looked like you were going to’.  I’m not saying all the jokes had to involve licking hairy ape balls, but more laughs in general is really where the movie missed the mark.

Realism

Ok, ok, sure a movie about a man raised in the jungle by gorillas is probably not where one goes looking for realism, but there was a few moments here and there that really pulled me out of the immersion. For example, the villain, Rom, uses for a weapon…wait for it…drumroll…a rosary. Part of me almost likes this. I mean, points for originality, right? Riiight? They even go so far as to shoehorn in a line of dialogue where Rom explains his rosary is made of like Indian spider silk or something like that. I forget what he said exactly but the implication was clear, he was saying, I can choke people to death with this rosary and it doesn’t break because it’s not made out of string. So you can imagine my surprise when later in the film he’s choking Tarzan and the rosary breaks because I guess Tarzan like flexed his neck muscles or something. As if I’m suppose to be sitting here like wow he has such a muscular neck, what a fulfilling nod to my male power fantasy.

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The Ugly

Alright I hope some of you have stuck with me this far, I mean holy shat, over 1100 words already written about a movie that literally no one cares about – what a way to spend my Sunday afternoon. But here is the point I really wanted to make about this movie and I’m legitimately curious to know if other people feel the same way.

Now, I’m sure we all know about the ideological lens, which is really just another way of saying personal bias. And sometimes I wonder if I’m getting too radicalized, in terms of being an uber shitlord, because I see the liberal bias everywhere, and it kind of is starting to suck my joy out of what should be simple pleasures, like watching a mindless Hollywood blockbuster. Have I become the victim of a sort or shitlord or even just plain old conservative ideological lens?

Slavery Is Bad, mmmkay

The movie felt like it was pandering to the regressive mindset at several points. From the very beginning, Tarzan did not want to return to Africa to see the Belgian railroad or whatever the original pretense for his invitation was. So why does he change his mind and decide to go? Because Samuel L. Jackson tells him that the Belgians are engaged in….gasp…slavery. Later in the movie we have a heavy handed shot that is no doubt suppose to be poignant and emotional, a railway cart of a bunch of black men in chains with forlorn and sullen faces.

In another scene, Sammy L talks about the horror of the civil war, and the awful treatment of the Native Americans. In fact I couldn’t help but feeling like Samuel L Jackson’s character didn’t really fit in the story, edged Jane’s character over to the sidelines, and was presumably there just to help the film avoid an accusation of ‘white savior syndrome‘ even tho the token black guy is just the sidekick. (predictable fail)

I mean, do you see my problem here people? It’s like once you familiarize yourself with social justice theory and know just how those minds work you can see the results of that thinking in real time and so while all these concepts, like slavery being bad, are obviously good and rational concepts, in a vacuum, I can’t help but feel that in modern context they take on this really phony, pandering, virtue signaling and ultimately just totally fuckin’ empty quality…I mean it feels so mandatory, so gawdamn mandatory that it’s like what’s even the point anymore? You see my problem? Am I wrong here? Am I reading too much into things? I want to believe that I am and that I can maybe somehow deprogram myself, at least a little.

Chief Mbonga, antongonist? Think again.

Villains Are Always White

It doesn’t stop there, of course. The bad guys are all white. The Belgian mercenaries are described as straight up enslavers that kill for pleasure. Oh wait, did I say all the villains are white, I guess I forgot about Chief Mbonga, the African chief that enlists Rom’s aid in capturing Tarzan with the promise of diamonds, a man with a vengeance filled heart whom we learn over the course of the film wants to kill Tarzan as revenge for Tarzan having killed his son in revenge for his son having killed Tarzan’s gorilla mum.

I shit you not, in the moments leading up to the violent confrontation between the two, I knew fully, in my heart, they would reconcile and the villain of Mbonga would become an entirely sympathetic ally, which is of course exactly what happened. Tarzan self flagellates and both of them are virtually sobbing in a scene of black absolution that would bring a tear to even the most cynical SJW’s eye. When people’s skin color make it so easy to predict plot points, we have a problem.

Tarzan’s decision to suddenly inexplicably feel guilty about the fact that his mom wasn’t murdered in cold blood because of the folly of youth but the well established tribal custom of Mbonga’s people? Left for us to work out on our own.

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The Sexy Lamp

Jane’s character is of course “strong”. In a way that has become, again, utterly mandatory. In one cringe inducing scene, Rom asks Jane to scream for him to which she defiantly replies “like a damsel?”. Get it? Because she’s not a damsel, even tho she gets kidnapped twice. If they wanted to make Jane an actual strong character they should have written Samuel L Jackson’s character out of the film and let Jane be the ass kicking sidekick. I imagine at some point the directer must have lamented the fact that Tarzan as white male is an established part of the cannon, otherwise he could have had the best of both worlds, minority representationally speaking.

The Verdict

3 out of 5 stars. Does that seem high, considering how many gripes I’ve picked (and honestly there’s more but this is getting a bit ridiculously long here)? Well I am rating the film relative to what I expect from a film these days and in that light, Tarzan is a decent way to kill a couple hours if you’re looking to turn your brain off. It bears repeating that the cinematography, the lighting, the visuals, just the production value in general is frankly astonishing and so I would recommend people to hit this up in the theater for that reason alone if hitting up the theater is something you’re into.

Agree or disagree with my take? Let me know in the comments.

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