By Jack Dignan
"You... are Tarzan," says Samuel L. Jackson's character in his first encounter with Alexander Skarsgård's Tarzan, not too far into the movie. While that may technically be true, Tarzan he is not. Not anymore, at least. The man we all once knew as Tarzan now goes by the name of John Clayton, and this film tells a story of his that we have not yet seen. It's a story set 10 years after the events we all know and love, but with all the spirit of the original. Is it an adventure worth going? Most critics seem to be saying no, but if you're a fan of the characters, or even the actors, I'd humbly disagree.
The Legend of Tarzan begins in London, John Clayton/Tarzan living a happy, peaceful life with his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), the wildness of the jungle well and truly behind him. They've settled down, despite having somewhat of a celebrity status throughout the city. But John is approached by a Civil War soldier, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), to help guide him through the jungle he once called home to investigate claims of slavery. While this investigation is going down, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) is on the hunt for Tarzan, hoping that his efforts are to be rewarded with diamonds.
David Yates, director of the last four Harry Potter films and forthcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, adapts Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic Tarzan stories into a dark and realistic tale of nature, slavery and a man brought up in the jungle. While the main chunk of the film takes place 10 years later, the film intercuts between Tarzan's origins, showing his discovery, upbringing and first encounters with Jane. It's an interesting and visually pleasing adaptation of the classic stories, and does go to show that this age-old story is far from dead.
But the thing is, this film isn't meant to be about the flashbacks. That isn't the focus. This is a new story, and does this new story work? For the most part, yes. It's a little bit slow to begin with, but once it gets rolling, I was enthralled. Exciting and action packed, it's a story that's slightly predictable, but a lot of fun. It may be dark and gritty, but there's still plenty of joy and emotion, mixed together with some well placed humour that just puts the overall cherry on top.
In terms of performances, they're excellent. When the rather negative reviews came out for this film, I was honesty surprised. The film features a heavily talented cast, featuring the likes of Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz, amongst many others. They are three actors who I will watch in quite literally any movie, and seeing them all share screen time was extremely exciting. All are great, but it's Samuel L. Jackson who really makes this movie. That man can turn any script, no matter how mediocre, and turn it into an Oscar-worthy performance.
Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan isn't quite as impressive, though. I liked him in the role and he does a very good job, and there's no doubt that he physically looks like the part, but he wasn't super interesting. Maybe it's the way he's character is written, or maybe he needed to express an emotion other than brooding, but no matter what the reason is, I didn't feel nearly as invested in him as a character than I did the others, and that's rather disappointing seeings as how he's the title character. Don't get me wrong, he is still good, but I wanted him to be just a tad more interesting.
As one would expect with a live action adaptation of Tarzan, the film is very CGI heavy. With Tarzan swinging around on vines and interacting with a great deal of savage creatures, there's no way that could be done practically. There was going to be a lot of CGI, and the CGI in this movie varies from being absolutely amazing, particularly with the apes, to down right terrible, with a lot of the green screen and vine swinging. It's all over the place in terms of quality, and while the scope of the jungle is rather huge, the budget for the visuals fails to meet the demand.
To sum up, The Legend of Tarzan is a dark and realistic new adventure in Tarzan's story, and as it turns out, it's a story worth telling. With some fantastic performances from its a-list cast and some rather brilliant visuals (and some not so brilliant ones), The Legend of Tarzan is a fun adventure.