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Blu-ray Review: The Legend of Tarzan

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I have always loved the story of Tarzan. A kid, orphaned in the jungle, grows up to become one with the animals, a legend of the pulp novels the character has everything you need for a great cinematic journey. Sadly, The Legend of Tarzan, directed by David Yates, seems to throw it all away. Instead of diving headlong into the action we have Christoph Waltz and a load of soldiers walking to the inevitable ambush. Then, instead of Tarzan running and swinging through the jungle we spend the first part of the film in a drab and dreary London.

This Lord of the Jungle, played by Alexander Skarsgård, left Africa a long time ago and is now living with his wife Jane Porter (Margot Robbie). They are asked by King Leopold of Belgium, via the British Prime Minister, to visit the Congo and report on the developments going on there. At first hesitant, it is Samuel L Jackson who convinces him to return as he thinks the local population is being enslaved.

This all takes time and I was sat wondering about why not just have the action start in Africa. All this exposition is interspersed with flashbacks to Tarzan’s early days – the fate of his parents, how he came to be adopted by the apes, growing up in the jungle, meeting Jane for the first time and so on. Every time one of these flashbacks appears you want to see more. They have more energy and development than the scenes in England. I know people feel as if there are too many origin films, but seeing the flashbacks shows they could have had a great film going in that direction.

Eventually we get to Africa and things pick, but only a little. Turns out it was all a ploy to get Tarzan back to Africa so Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) can get his revenge and the Belgium’s can get lots of diamonds. All well and good, but not the most riveting of plots and the Chief Mbonga subplot is very rushed and could have been handled so much better.

There are a few good moments in the film and all involve Tarzan being Tarzan – a great fight in the confines of a railway carriage shows just what a force of nature Tarzan can be, and the scenes with him running along tree branches and swinging on vines can be exhilarating but they are too few and far between.

Instead for the majority of the film we get Tarzan running after Jane, while Samuel L Jackson tries to keep up. I keep referring to Samuel L Jackson by name as he isn’t really playing a character other than an exaggerated version of the one we often see time and again. He does a great job, but it feels like he is from a different film. Christoph Waltz also suffers the same fate with his character being just another Christoph Waltz bad guy.

Alexander Skarsgård makes a fantastic Tarzan. He has the look and build to play the Lord of the Jungle, but he is not given enough to do. Margot Robbie is the breath of fresh air in the film. Her Jane is smart, resourceful and never the damsel in distress as the character has been portrayed in the past. If we had just had a film focusing on her and Tarzan, both fighting the good fight, we would have had a cracking pulp adventure film.

Then we have the other main problem with the film – the CGI. Usually I try to just go with it and The Jungle Book has shown that you can do CG animals extremely well. However, here the disparity between the live action actors and the CG animals is too great. They all seem just that bit too false so that every time they’re on screen you are pulled out of the film. There are also some very obvious green screen moments where you can tell the cast are in a studio when instead they should be on the plains of Africa. One of the side effects of having the film in HD.

It’s such a shame. Maybe if they’d jumped straight into seeing Tarzan leaping about the jungle it would have got off to a better start. They had everything they needed for a great film, but it never comes together. Tarzan deserves better.

2.5-out-of-5

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