Director: David Yates
Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou, Christoph Waltz, Jim Broadbent, Casper Crump, Simon Russell Beale
Run Time: 110 mins
‘The Legend of Tarzan’ is the latest effort to bring Edgar Rice Burrough’s iconic character to the big screen and this is director David Yates’ first theatrical film outside of the Harry Potter franchise of which he was responsible for the final four films. Tarzan has always been a problematic character to translate into film – recent attempts include Kellan Lutz’s 2013 motion capture performance and Casper Van Dien’s 1998 effort of which both recived very bad reviews. Yates is a fine choice for a director for this material – the Harry Potter films that he directed were atmospheric, heartfelt and had some terrific action sequences. The cast assembled here is also stellar comprising of Alexander Skarsgård as the titular character with Margot Robbie as Jane and rounded off by Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou and Christoph Waltz, the latter playing the villain. With a cast this good and a great team behind the camera, this has got to be a surefire hit, right?
‘The Legend of Tarzan’ is endlessly entertaining and frequently atmospheric, almost poetic in its assured direction by David Yates at times and the film’s strong cast allow this film to thrive. The film is very well-paced and the action sequences are exhilarating at times. Unfortunately, the film has not been received well by the critics as the film boasts a disappointing 36% rating on Rotten Tomatoes so far, many citing it as an empty, hollow film which I can understand as this film is not without its flaws. Alexander Skarsgård does lack charisma as the titular character but excels in the action sequences but luckily this isn’t too much of a problem and the visual effects are a little ‘ropey’ at times. But these issues do not harm, what is generally a pretty good film, too much as its direction and entertaining storyline more than make up for it.
What allows ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ to be so entertaining is its talented cast who are able to transform what would otherwise be rather two-dimensional characters into characters that we care about and empathise with. Samuel L. Jackson, already having a fantastic year so far, is the standout yet again. He plays the historic George Washington Williams who persuades and accompanies Tarzan on his quest and he is given much of the comic relief in the script. Margot Robbie is also strong as Tarzan’s love interest, Jane, and she doesn’t resort to being a damsel-in-distress which is refreshing for a film in this genre. The main antagonist, Léon Rohm, played by Christoph Waltz is menacing and is a real threat to the protagonists. Although Waltz has his detractors who complain that he plays the same character over and over again, he does, but it does suit the material so I have no issue with this. Djimon Hounsou also is a worthy foe who is equally menacing and the film also has more of an extended cameo by veteran stage actor, Simon Russell Beale who also delivers a quality performance. As mentioned, Alexander Skarsgård is the weak link as the titular character as he does lack charisma and personality but it’s not too big of a problem as he isn’t given too many lines and he is great in the action sequences.
The film’s story doesn’t just recycle the traditional Tarzan story – this film is part prequel / origin story / sequel in terms of storyline to other films and this is a refreshing change for the material and allows Yates to a chance to breathe new life into the material. Yates is a great match for this material and there are numerous sequences that are near-perfect which he is able to conjure a very atmospheric tone and the film allows the audience to take a breath and take in this wonderful world that he has created. Rupert Gregson-William’s score is very fitting and there are some outstanding musical cues in the film, particular in the film’s opening.
However, the film is not without its flaws. The visual effects are rather lacking in places, surprisingly so considering the film had a $180 million budget and all of the Harry Potter films that Yates directed were visually stunning. In line with the critics, the film does feel empty and hollow at times as the film cannot quite rid itself of cliches at times and Skarsgård’s portrayal of Tarzan is rather wooden which doesn’t help when the main actor cannot match the rest of the cast. But the mixed reviews are very unfair as Yates has done an admirable job with the material and his strong direction allows the film to be very atmospheric at times.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ as I had initially been worried with the mixed reviews, but I found this film to be very entertaining with some strong action sequences complimented by assured direction by David Yates. It’s alarming how little faith Warner Brothers have in their product – they haven’t particularly pushed the film in its marketing and have kept rather quiet once the mixed reviews came in. If they had pushed the film more, we could even be getting a sequel as the film has performed well at the box office so far thanks to audiences and as the film is generally good quality, it’s a shame that it cannot be allowed to achieve its full potential.