Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, July 8, 2016

Man vs. Nature vs. Yawn

The Critic's Corner movie review

David Laprad

There are two kinds of people: those who like orange juice with pulp, and those who prefer it without pulp. I must be a pulp kind of guy, because I enjoy the bits and pieces of orange. I feel the same way about Tarzan movies. If I’m going to watch a film about a man raised by apes, I want the pulp – Tarzan wrestling tigers, saving Jane from a shameful villain, and filling the jungle with his trademark ululating bellow.

The makers of “The Legend of Tarzan,” however, seem to prefer the ape man without the pulp. Tarzan loses a brawl with an ape; Jane doesn’t need rescuing because she can take care of herself, thank you very much; and there’s only one shot in which a group of people can sorta hear Tarzan doing his distinctive yell in the distance. In taking Tarzan more seriously, the filmmakers also stripped him of everything that made him fun.

That’s not to say “The Legend of Tarzan” is a bad film. The evidence on the screen suggests everyone tried to make a good movie. It’s just blah.

The story alternates between a young Tarzan as a family of apes takes him in following the death of his parents in the jungle, and the adult John Clayton III, who has been found, civilized, and dubbed Lord Greystoke.

The latter portion of the story seems more concerned with political intrigue than making Tarzan interesting. In it, the corrupt Captain Léon Rom arrives in the African Congo to search for a rare vein of diamonds that can finance an invasion by the king of Belgium. With his government on the verge of bankruptcy, the sovereign needs to seize control of the Congo’s minerals, and will spare no African life to do it.

Clayton, or Greystoke, or Tarzan (take your pick) becomes unwittingly involved when the leader of an African tribe promises to show Rom where the diamonds are in exchange for Rom returning the ape man to the jungle. The chief has his reasons, and they make sense, so even though “The Legend of Tarzan” might not offer the adventurous thrills found in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ stories, it is built on solid ground.

The filmmakers must have put a lot of thought into Tarzan’s personal journey, too. Regarding the character, actor Alexander Skarsgård told a journalist, “This (movie) is about a man who’s holding back, and slowly, as you peel off the layers, he reverts back to a more animalistic state.” This stripping down is evident in the story beats but not Skarsgård’s performance, as he either lacks charisma as an actor, or lacks the charisma to play Tarzan.

I didn’t find Christoph Waltz’s performance as Captain Léon Rom lacking, but his dastardly villain shtick, already seen in “Inglourious Basterds,” “Spectre,” and a handful of other films, is growing long in the tooth. Margot Robbie took chances as Jane, such as projecting more strength than the Jane of the movies I watched as a kid, and she did good work.

My final complaint about “Tarzan” regards the surprisingly colorless cinematography. Director David Yates, who helmed the last four Harry Potter films, gives “Tarzan” a dull, grey sheen. Some portions of the film are so monochromatic, I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had told me Warner Bros. had released it in black and white.

Yates does occasionally try to inject a bit of pulpy fun into “Tarzan,” but the results are mixed. I liked the scenes in which the camera swooped through the jungle as Tarzan darted across thick branches and swung from tree to tree on a vine, but wonky computer animation renders a wildebeest stampede near the end of the film less effective.

Most critics have slammed “The Legend of Tarzan,” but the movie is nowhere near the disaster some of the reviews claim it to be. It is, however, too serious for its own good, and its action is uneven.  Here’s hoping the filmmakers leave in the pulp if they do a sequel.