I was asked “who even wanted a Tarzan movie? why did they bother?” earlier this week when I mentioned going to see it. I explained that there’s an entire generation who grew up still with Tarzan still in the regular popular consciousness. I had the comics, the Christopher Lambert movie (1984 Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes), the cartoon series; and yes even copies of some of the original Edgar Rice Burroughs stories. Of course I also was able to enjoy the Disney version back in 99. So there are quite a few my age, slightly younger, and older who would love to see a Tarzan movie done well. Something we really haven’t had since 1999. It’s an opportunity to introduce another generation to Tarzan….
But did they miss the mark?
Obviously based on the works of Sir Edgar Rice Burroughs, this telling was brought to the screen by Craig Brewer and Adam Conzad. Conzad’s only other credit is the lack luster Jack Ryan Shadow Recruit. Brewer for his part was the writer behind the Footloose remake (which I adore), Hustle & Flow, and Black Snake Moan. While the pair give us flashbacks to the origin story, it’s wisely not told in full as many comic book movies could learn from. This is instead a story of after. After Tarzan meets Jane, after he returned to London…and is called back to the jungles of Africa. I would like to say they did well here, but alas I can but say they did ok. The movie has trademark fingerprints of studio over production where much is sanitized and the film retains one of the more problematic aspects of Tarzan in this day and age of “The Great White Savior.” I don’t think you can reasonably tell the film without that last component and it is an artifact of it’s time – but they probably could have tried. Beyond that, motives are vague, the plot is as thin as rice paper, and the characters are told with strokes broad enough to paint an aircraft carrier with a single stroke. Even if it has elements of rarely known historical accuracy in it…it yeah.
Yet at the same time, I was still engaged; which may be due to David Yates directing. Yates, who got the unenviable chair of director for Harry Pottery from Order of the Phoenix until the end. No easy task. I can easily lay the beats of the movie that work so well on him. He elevates with good shots, blocking, and overall direction of his actors; but even his talent has limits. What he is able to do is salvage many moments of mediocrity into something trying to push the bounds of it. Intelligent moves make some character far more interesting and compelling than the story itself. He can’t save it all, but what few audience members there were tonight (about 10) laughed at times and cheered at others. That is something.
I would like to give all the actors credit, but only some get it. Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood, Battleship), is not one of them however. He is *very* pretty. I maintain his abs have abs. His performance however, lacks something …feral? I don’t feel the Lord of the Jungle. I don’t feel a Lord of a Manor…I just don’t feel. Script, actor, or directing? I can’t tell. Based on what I saw in 2012’s Battleship? Actor…sorry True Blood fans, his Eric is very pretty, but I got nothing here. Samuel L Jackson surprised me here, as I find even a phoned in performance from him actually pretty decent. He kinda grew on me, even if the character weren’t needed. Christoph Waltz, does his best but the script does him no favors. He tries to get callbacks to Hans Landa here, but just can’t surpass the character he was given but damnit if he didn’t try. Margot Robbie as Jane? I wanted to see a movie about her by the end (of act I…). This is the Jane we didn’t know we needed. If they had called this Tarzan and Jane and had them together kicking ass through this? It would be a different review. She is absolutely fearless and I love her. More Margot please. More of this Jane please.
At a technical level…I just sighed writing that. That should brace you. Nothing is real. I can tell. I check the filming locations and not one lists Africa. Why? Budget? You had $180 million! It’s an amazing and beautiful continent and you know if you can’t film in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or the Republic of the Congo…where it’s supposed to be; you could try Angola, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea? Ok…so you went to Gabon and did filming without your cast. Audiences can tell. We’re getting better at picking up composite shots and you may just have to try a bit harder. The green screen is evident in shots where you could have lit better or differently. It’s sad as there’s some shots which could have been more amazing. If anything though they got the animals right. The movement and some of the behaviors were spot on even if the effect wasn’t perfect. From an action standpoint I am concerned as well, as it’s clear Skarsgard is ripped and athletic…you can teach him to fight and let us see it. You can’t pull an argument that this is for kids and have some of the other things you do in this movie. Also…don’t put shots in trailers…then have the same shot with a different backdrop entirely in the movie – it adds to the fake.
The movie is safe. It’s over produced Hollywood churn factory. It’s hollow and without any real weight, feeling, or emotion. The action is…ok and could have been better. It’s a movie of “almost” and “missed opportunities” . Sorry folks, I can’t give it better than that. What I can say is – it’s ok Popcorn fare.
I am not angry for having seen it. I don’t hate it. It doesn’t irritate as bad as Independence Day did. You’d think I did hate it from how I ripped it above, but…
I did find myself enjoying it if I didn’t think too hard or care too much. It has a plenty of moments of good, touching on things no other movie in this genre actually has. Moments that made me see what it could have been. I enjoyed it, but the moment I think about it I get slightly annoyed at “if you just did…”. The adventure was almost there; an adventure I wanted to go on and they made me want to go on.
Should you see it?
Matinee fodder easily. 3D not really. If you want a popcorn movie to relax into this weekend…you could do worse.
Would you watch it again?
Truth be told? Maybe if I had nothing better to do. It’s not that bad…it just could have been more.
Will Jess buy it?
Yeah probably. It has more than enough for a purchase into the collection.
What’s the next review?
Pending any surprises between then and now – Ghostbusters on July 14. Star Trek Beyond July 21, Jason Bourne and Nerve the following week, then Suicide Squad. I am uncertain on Pete’s Dragon. Kubo and the Two Strings is absolute.
That’s the rest of my ‘official’ summer schedule. Who knows what else may crop up?