When Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote his first story about the jungle hero Tarzan in 1912, there was no indication that the first in what was to become a series of books would become an immense success, subsequently prompting Burroughs to chronicle Lord John Clayton III’s adventures till 1940s. Tarzan is considered to be the most frequently featured fictional character in the history of the modern cinema and was tackled by various Hollywood and European filmmakers – beginning with the 1918 Scott Sidney’s silent film Tarzan of the Apes and – hopefully – ending with the 2016 David Yates’ The Legend of Tarzan. To those who are unfamiliar with the tale of John, the Edgar Rice’ Tarzan’s story begins with his parents setting off on a journey to Africa. The ship they are sailing on is destroyed in a storm; however, they manage to survive and with the ship remnants, the couple builds a tree house in the middle of a jungle. After a while, their son John is born; unfortunately, Clayton’s wife dies of malaria and the boy’s father is killed while challenging a silver-back gorilla. Now orphaned, Tarzan is fostered by Kala, a female ape, and raised in the Mangani troop; from this point onward, the speech-deprived ape man starts his adventures in the African jungle, including the encounter with the love of his life – Jane Porter.

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David Yates’ The Legend of Tarzan does not return to the source material; the audience is taken not to the beginning of the protagonist’s life, but to London, where Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) is now married to Jane (Margot Robbie) and has become a fully civilized Lord John Greystoke, living a blissful life in the countryside with the people he cares about. However, the idyll is suddenly disrupted by the British Government when he is asked to travel back to Congo as Belgium – under the King Leopold II – is about to draw out the country’s rich natural resources, including diamonds, by sending Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) – a heartless and corrupt captain – to deal with the issues and to control the Belgian part of Congo. At first, John refuses, but following George Washington William’s (Samuel L. Jackson) persuasion – who suspects that Belgium might try to enslave the indigenous people – he decides to travel to Africa. So, after  a very boring first 45 minutes of the film, the audience is finally introduced to Tarzan’s character, through sporadic flashbacks of his past; regrettably, they are very chaotic and superficial.

Thanks to – at times – uninspiring CGI, the viewers are transported to Africa – for the better part, recreated in the Warner Bros’ studios – where Tarzan and his fellow travellers must fight off not only Leon Rom, but also the local chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), who controls the diamond region and who seeks revenge against Tarzan for the death of his son; and so, the cat-and-mouse game begins. Don’t get your hopes up too high though; the film becomes a calamitous picture of computerized animals and action, devoid of any noetic merit.

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The Legend of Tarzan, as most of the film-goers probably expected, was intended to be a pure adventure with an interesting storyline; nevertheless the production turned out to be a nonsensical tale of a man who runs around the jungle like a headless chicken, hugs lions and calls for wild beasts to destroy an illegal Belgium army camp; which – unfortunately – brings the whole film to an end at a lethargic pace. There is a lack of adventure in Yates’ film as Adam Cozad’ and Craig Brewer’s screenplay is poorly written: with various characters with superfluous background stories, inadequate jokes and vocabulary for that particular period of time, the classic character of Tarzan received a disenchanting ‘face-lift’, while overall, The Legend of Tarzan is at best a very weak film. Even having the glorious Alexander Skarsgård in the leading role, and with Christoph Waltz as a villain and Samuel L. Jackson as William – isn’t enough for the film to give the audience something remarkable. Nevertheless, with good performances by aforementioned actors, the visually comely cinematography by Henry Braham (The Golden Compass, Nanny McPhee) and an interesting choice of music by Rupert Gregson-Williams (Hotel Rwanda), it all – somehow – makes you want to finish watching the film.

David Yates rose to fame after directing the final four films in the Harry Potter film series, and it appears that he had hoped that ‘his’ Tarzan could have been as successful as Harry Potter, which it – unfortunately – wasn’t; it was a box office failure and will go down in history as yet another disappointing and overbudgeted Hollywood production. Will there be another film about Tarzan in the future? I hope not, since the previous attempts – Tarzan of the Apes (1981), Tarzan and the Lost City (1998)- were pathetic and  – quite simply – bad. Following suit, The Legend of Tarzan is an okay film for those who like to relax in the cinema and for those that do not like to think about what is really happening on the big screen.


Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Sanja Struna

All photos © The Legend of Tarzan & Warner Bros. Pictures

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