Tarzan and Jane return to Africa to save their homeland from a ruthless profiteer, in this bizarre action re-imagining of the classic tale
Director: David Yates
Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou
Genre: Action / Adventure
Release date: July 7, 2016
Running time: 110 mins
The first ever Tarzan movie was released almost a hundred years ago, in 1918. Since then, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ beloved character has been played by more than twenty actors, on both the big and small screens.
It’s safe to say then, that the Lord of the Apes is more accustomed than most to the reboot treatment, with new versions (either animated or live-action) popping up reliably every decade or so.
This time around, Alexander Skarsgard is the man in the loincloth, with directorial duties landing in the hands of David Yates, who’s no stranger to popular franchises, having directed the last four Harry Potter films.
A mixed bag
Cleverly limiting Tarzan’s origin story to a series of effectively staged flashbacks, the film opens in London, with John Clayton, Lord of Greystoke (Skarsgard) meeting real-life author and statesman John Washington Williams (Samuel L Jackson), who persuades him to return to the Congo to help prove systematic abuses of its people and resources by Belgium’s King Leopold.
However, both Greystoke and his American wife Jane (Margot Robbie) are unaware that they are walking into a trap set by ruthless Belgian profiteer Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), who has promised to deliver Tarzan to vengeful, dodgily-named Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) in return for a boatload of diamonds.
Unfortunately, the film is something of a mixed bag. On the plus side, the performances are good, particularly Robbie, who lights up the screen every time she appears and has some enjoyable action moments of her own, to the point where you almost wish you were watching Jane of the Jungle instead.
Skarsgard certainly looks the part and has the requisite physique, but he’s also rather gloomy throughout, which saps some of the fun out of it.
However, Jackson delivers one of his most satisfying supporting turns in ages as Williams, while Waltz is on reliably hissable form as the erudite bad guy.
Ticks most, but not all of the boxes
As for the script, the political edge works nicely (especially when Washington makes poignant, culpable comparisons with American history) and the film ticks most, if not all of the required Tarzan boxes. So, for example, we get the fabled Tarzan cry (offscreen), some vine-swinging that would put Spider-Man to shame and a fight with a gorilla, but there’s no alligator wrestling or elephant riding.
The film’s biggest problem is the shockingly poor editing, both in terms of some incoherent, poorly staged action sequences, and the story itself, which has huge narrative jumps, suggesting that the film was originally much longer.
It also feels like the violence has been toned down in the editing suite in pursuit of a 12A rating.
On top of that, the CGI animals already look dated beside the wonders of the recent Jungle Book movie and, Jackson’s scenes aside, the dialogue is frequently dull and disappointing, with the script failing to embrace the character’s pulpy origins.
The performances ensure that this is never less than watchable, but the action is underwhelming and it’s not nearly as much fun as it should have been.