(US - 2016)
Directed by David Yates. Written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer. Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent, Ben Chaplin, Casper Crump, Simon Russell Beale, Matt Cross, Madeleine Worrall. (PG-13, 109 mins)
The latest big-screen incarnation of the legendary Edgar Rice Burroughs character has all of the expected 2016 blockbuster summer tentpole bells-and-whistles--3-D, extensive CGI, motion-capture performances for the apes, post-300 quick cut/slo-mo speed-ramping--but makes a concerted effort to remain faithful to the Tarzan of old whenever possible. The best decision made by screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer and latter-franchise HARRY POTTER director David Yates is to consciously avoid making this yet another origin story. THE LEGEND OF TARZAN takes place in 1890, years after Tarzan and Jane have left the jungle to return to their aristocratic life in London as Mr. and Mrs. John Clayton III. Tarzan's backstory--his parents killed after a shipwreck when he was a baby, his being raised by apes in the deep jungles of the Congo, his meeting American Jane and returning to society--is doled out in periodic flashbacks that take up only the necessary screen time. The film expects the audience to have a working knowledge of Tarzan, which is a pretty bold move considering how major studio marketing usually works and for whom the movie is targeted. It's been 18 years since the last big-screen TARZAN movie--the 1998 bomb TARZAN AND THE LOST CITY, with Casper Van Dien--and over 30 since the 1984 prestige epic GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES with Christopher Lambert and 1981's abominable TARZAN THE APE MAN with Bo Derek and Miles O'Keeffe. Tarzan hasn't been a regular pop culture fixture since the late 1960s. As was the case with last year's pleasantly-surprising THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., I guarantee there are moviegoers today who have no idea who or what Tarzan is.
gallimimus scene in JURASSIC PARK, and a shot of a gorilla roaring in Williams' face has he turns away in fright is straight out of ALIEN 3. Robbie's Jane is far too present-day snarky at times (you're almost expecting her to vocal-fry "hashtag whatever" at Tarzan), and a throwaway line implying Rom was molested by his priest as a boy has no place in a TARZAN movie, nor does Williams quipping "Do you want me to lick his nuts, too?" when Tarzan tells him to bow before an ape leader. So yeah, there are some big flaws here, but it gets more right than wrong, starting with not overstaying its welcome, clocking in at a perfectly reasonable 109 minutes. Skarsgard is a fine Tarzan, a stoical man of few words and he certainly looks the part, even if his Tarzan yell sounds suspiciously like a guttural death metal remix of Johnny Weissmuller's iconic call. Waltz was obviously hired to be Christoph Waltz, and he relishes every moment of it. He's given a lot more to do here than in his squandered turn as Blofeld in the disappointing SPECTRE, and his performance, coupled with his suit and hat and his steamboat journey upriver, combine to make a nice winking nod to Klaus Kinski in FITZCARRALDO. THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is mindless, harmless summer fun (despite the insistence of many critics and bloggers who specialize in professional outrage, tirelessly trying to find things to be offended by), but it isn't giving the Weissmuller or Gordon Scott classics any cause for concern over their place in the TARZAN canon.