Review: 'Legend of Tarzan'

Yet another sequel in a sea of foundering big-budget sequels
HUNKY MONKEY MAN: Alexander Skarsgard plays the titular, vine-swinging hero in 'The Legend of Tarzan™.'

The trademark symbol is proudly displayed on the title card of the latest high-flying action epic from Warner Bros.—The Legend of Tarzan™. Let's be sure include that mark whenever mentioning the film, lest our hero fall into the public domain ... like he should have 50 years ago.

In the mid-1880s, Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) is in a snit, sulking about unwanted fame and all the dime-novel pulp fiction about his deeds in the jungle. He's asked by a Yankee diplomat (Samuel L. Jackson, in an unfortunate toupee) and Prime Minister Gladstone (the ever-witty Jim Broadbent) to return to Africa to investigate King Leopold's colony in the Congo.

This is a very happy springboard for a Tarzan movie, which only amps the disappointment that follows. Colonial Africa never knew a more vicious or greedy spoilsman than Leopold, and the Lord of the Apes certainly has his work ready for him.

Unfortunately, the movie industry is in a downward spiral of adventure movies, in which every successful pitch seems to either be a sequel or a prequel. Taking on this project, seasoned by a decade in development hell, director David Yates (of the last few Harry Potter movies) intends The Legend of Tarzan™ to be both origin and a tale of return. Unwanted flashbacks to Tarzan's lonely youth in a den of gorillas keep interrupting the mission; the movie stays on its rails about as well as an Amtrak train.

Jane (Margot Robbie, gorgeous but terrible) takes a long time to get kidnapped. Christoph Waltz does what he can to energize the part of Leopold's ruthless pointman, dressed nattily in a white suit that makes him look like Klaus Kinski in Fitzcarraldo. Even with every provocation you could ask for, and the urgings on of the eloquent Samuel L., it takes forever for this emo Ape Man to get into the damn trees.

Tarzan talks in a surly whisper—God forbid he should take any pleasure in this guerrilla war. I saw it at a lower-res screening (you could see the square pixels in the titles), it may be a little hard to judge the digitally augmented jungle, but it was apparently woven out of second unit work in Gabon and lots of studio time. Green screen seems to have been used whenever possible, and Tarzan keeps plunging into a verdant half-visible mess that looks like pea soup.

The Legend of Tarzan™
109 Mins.

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