The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

  • Time: 109 min
  • Genre: Action | Adventure
  • Director: David Yates
  • Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie


Tarzan, having acclimated to life in London, is called back to his former home in the jungle to investigate the activities at a mining encampment.


  • (RATING: ☆☆☆½ out of 5)


    IN BRIEF: A conventional approach to the Tarzan story which swings back and forth, without getting anywhere.

    GRADE: B-

    SYNOPSIS: The story of a little boy who goes ape.

    JIM’S REVIEW: There have been many incarnations of the Tarzan legend, starting with Edgar Rice Burroughs original 1914 novel, Tarzan of the Apes. Our ape man has appeared in magazines, novels, comic books, movies, radio, cartoons, and television shows, all with varying degrees of success. Various actors have filled his loincloth, from the most famous actor in this role, Johnny Weissmuller in the 1940’s, to Gordon Scott in the 1950’s and Ron Ely taking hold of those vine reins in the mid 60’s. His legend lives on once again in this modern day re-boot, The Legend of Tarzan, with Alexander Skarsgård as our muscle-toned hero.

    The story adheres to its source and follows the basic outline of Burrough’s novel. Told in flashbacks, we learn of an infant left in the jungle without parents and adopted by the great apes. Tarzan, now John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke, lived and thrives in his tropical environs until he was rescued and returned to England. Having difficulty readjusting to British society, he finds a comrade in the beautiful Jane Porter (a beguiling Margot Robbie). Upon his return to his childhood home in the Congo, Greystoke (a.k.a. Tarzan) discovers man’s cruelty in the form of Belgian huntsman, Leon Rom (a typecast Christoph Waltz, playing, what else, but the villain). Whereupon Tarzan must takes sides to protect his adopted tribe of primates and protect his homeland.

    Mr. Skarsgård plays Tarzan as an eloquent victim, more at home with his hairy friends than his human species. No “Me Tarzan, you Jane” monosyllabic banter here, and no loincloth either. This Tarzan mixes the physicality and brutishness of Stanley Kowalski with the sophistication and aplomb of a true noble gentleman, no small feat. If only the film matched his interpretation also.

    The Legend of Tarzan is all too proper and seriously-minded which cuts down on the fun and adventure. David Yates directs his film solidly, keeping the action moving. Yet the production design by Stuart Craig seems too well-crafted for its own good, nothing out of place. It lacks authenticity in its detailing. This man-made jungle is just too pristine, so clean and sanitized just like its story. (When the vines look suspiciously like greenish rubber tubes and the cragged rocks like painted styrofoam, something is a bit off.)  The special effects aren’t that special either. Except for the primates, most of the animal kingdom is obviously the results of CGI, effective but slightly unreal and unsatisfying.

    On the plus side, the fluid camerawork by Henry Braham has an acrobatic energy, especially as Tarzan travels from vine to vine, the best part of the cinematic experience. Mark Day’s fine editing enhances the effect. The panoramic vistas help to give the film a sense of epic adventure, even if the adventures we witness never attain the grandeur of other epic film tales due to its script.

    The narrative structure swings from its more interesting backstories (Tarzan’s early life and upbringing, his adaptation to his aristocratic England, Jane’s personal journey) which are only hinted, to the standard main story dealing with The Great White Hunter’s poaching of ivory, diamonds, and the slave trade…granted all important subjects, but the treatment is painted in the most black and white terms with the widest of brushstrokes. That’s the problem…there are no grey strokes in this Greystoke’s version.

    None of the characters are remotely real or believable, but the roles are well cast. There is a nice chemistry between the two leads, although their beauty reminds us too often of an Abercrombie and Fitch ad. Both are gorgeous human specimens who fortunately can act, even if the dialog that they are given by screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, is banal and stilted.

    Given strong support is Samuel L. Jackson as the real life George Washington Williams, a political activist and do-gooder, but his character, as written, speaks in anachronistic modern day jargon. Still the actor brings much needed bravado and is amusing in his role. Djimon Hounsou as the avenging chief does some effective underplaying when Mr. Waltz again overplays the menace angle. However he does bring some interesting human quirks to the part. (Nice moment with the silverware arrangement, Christoph.)

    All in all, the initial story line remains intriguing, the action sequences entertain, and Mr. S. makes an awesome impression, all swagger, six-pack, and sensitivity in a tight delightful manly package, although his fluent English language skills are never addressed.

    This Tarzan has its flaws, but it does keep the legend intact, until the next chapter.

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  • I’m not an expert on the story of Tarzan, but here’s what I picked up from a midday screening of 2016’s latest re-imagining: John Clayton III (that’s the actual name of the main character) grew up in Gabon, a country in Equatorial Africa. After his father died, he was raised by Apes, learned to swing on vines, be one with all sorts of animals, and befriend his true love, Jane Porter. Now as he lives a quiet life in London, he is summoned back to his homeland by a former American Civil War soldier. The mission: To investigate the interests of a mining camp in the Congo. Oh and did I mention there’s some evil dude out there doing a little diamond smuggling as well?

    Bottom line: The Legend of Tarzan is a passable yet unmemorable viewing experience. Call it a second-tier Raiders of the Lost Ark manufactured for the Disney age. Here’s what you get acting-wise: Christoph Waltz gives us his standard, antagonistic performance (with strangling wrist beads as a wubby). Lead Alexander Skarsgard looks like a young Viggo Mortensen but lacks any real charisma. Samuel L. Jackson being Samuel L. Jackson, provides satire as a goofy sidekick with a gun. Finally, romantic interest Margot Robbie continues to disappoint after being so brilliant in The Wolf of Wall Street (her Jane narrates poorly and sort of thinks she’s in a comedy). Yeah it’s all packaged in 2016’s gaudiest summer epic.

    Now from what I’ve gathered, “Legend” is far more symbolic and dramatically inclined than 1981’s Tarzan, the Ape Man. It’s also probably more modernized and digitally enhanced than Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. Don’t be fooled though. At just under two hours, this is a loud movie that is full of dangled, random flashbacks that almost deflate any perceptible momentum (Tarzan losing his daddy because Apes beat him to death, Tarzan learning to speak and communicate, Tarzan meeting Jane for the first time, etc.). Director David Yates who was in charge of the later Harry Potter flicks, employs a large canvas with his camera moving fast and forthright. To go along with Henry Braham’s lush cinematography, he adds lots of extras in every frame, riverboat scenes that would make Francis Ford Coppola jealous, images of CGI wildlife that bring forth a Noah’s Ark-like vision, and pedestrian action sequences that have some unnecessary slow motion to boot (John Clayton fights slave drivers, tribesmen, and just about everybody else here).

    Overall, this is a great looking film that was obviously designed for the big screen and/or widescreen. However, it has a handsome yet muted Tarzan that is difficult to root for. Just because the musical score pounces in every time he’s about to dispose of cardboard villains, doesn’t mean his actions are worth memorializing. The same notions apply when he’s about to kiss the girl, about to beat his chest with an infamous mating call, and about to become the hero. Rating: 2 stars.

    Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

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  • If nothing else, The Legend of Tarzan, the latest incarnation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ perennial title character, proves once again what a buoyant and resilient talent we have in Margot Robbie. The Aussie actress rises from this middling mess like Aphrodite, providing us relief from the muck with her incandescence.

    To be fair, screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer and director David Yates do as much right as they do wrong in their attempt to reintroduce the character to a generation bred on superheroes both fantastic (The Avengers) and relatively realistic (Jason Bourne, Bond). The fact that their attempts turn a fascinating figure – a noble wild child, if you will – into a brooding dullard undermines their cause. Alexander Skarsgård or, rather, his shredded physique does what it can to distract; unfortunately, the abs are kept well-covered until the final third of the film, by which time it’s too late to regain any real interest.

    Set during the time when King Leopold II of Belgium began to colonise the Congo and mine it of its treasures in order to undergird his debt-ridden government, the film begins with his envoy Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz, adding yet another entry into his gallery of silky weasels) striking a deal with tribal chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou). If Rom delivers Tarzan, the man who killed the chief’s son, then Mbonga will give him the precious diamonds of Opar. Tarzan, now acclimated into civilisation as John Clayton III, fifth earl of Greystoke, is in no hurry to return to the Congo, refusing the royal invitation orchestrated by Rom. He is ultimately convinced to accept by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), an American Civil War veteran who suspects that the Belgian king is condoning the enslavement of the natives.

    Jane (Robbie) invites herself along, the three are ambushed, Tarzan and Williams escape, but Jane is captured by Rom, who rightly suspects that Tarzan will do whatever it takes to rescue his wife. For stretches at a time, Yates treats the film as an old-fashioned adventure with modernist touches, but his reluctance to wholly embrace the inherent B-movie schlockiness of it all dampens the fun. There’s nothing wrong with schlock – the Indiana Jones films are the best examples of how schlock’s minor chords can be composed into a deeply enjoyable symphony. Sometimes the best thing a filmmaker can do is listen to the story itself – this is a simple tale that allows for adventure, romance, and fun and, yes, an observation on colonialism and exploitation. Yates and the screenwriters seem to understand this – at least Robbie and Jackson do as evidenced by their feisty, somewhat tongue-in-cheek line readings – but they still persevere in treating the tale like a post-graduate thesis.

    Cinematographer Henry Braham and production designer Stuart Craig make excellent contributions. Surprisingly, the animals are glaringly digital – this would be less of a problem if the connection between them and Skarsgård weren’t so critically lacking. Is it only actresses that can create believable emotional connections with creatures? Fay Wray and Naomi Watts in King Kong (1933 and 2005, respectively) and Charlize Theron in Mighty Joe Young would seem to support this. Robbie’s Jane displays more conviction with her brief interactions with the animals than Tarzan does. In fact, it is Jane who regards their trip to Africa as a return to their rightful home. In many respects and despite the filmmakers’ efforts to keep the character corseted into the usual damsel in distress stereotype, it is really Jane who emerges as the film’s most successful reinvention. Legend of Jane, anyone?

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  • “Bring it to me. Bring him to me. And you shall have your diamonds.”

    Once and a while my mother allowed me to choose a comic strip at the store when I was a small boy. I always opted for a Tarzan comic strip. It appealed very strongly to my imagination at that time. That ruler of the jungle who used lianas to travel and who ruled over those wild fellow residents of the jungle. Even films from the old days with Johnny Weissmuller captivated me. Weissmuller was more impressive compared to this Tarzan. I’m talking about the size of his thorax and those developed biceps and triceps. Tarzan in this movie is a tad less muscled and he’s already adapted to modern society. No “Me Tarzan.You Jane” conversations. He rather listens to the name John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgård). A distinguished English gentleman who walks around gallantly on two legs and speaks eloquently to his fellow men. He’s civilized, in other words.

    And then there’s Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) who explores Africa while looking for valuable diamonds to fund the expansionism of the Belgian King Leopold II. Rom is a determined globetrotter who won’t let anything stand in his way so he can reach his goal. There’s one obstacle between him and the valuable diamonds. And that’s Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) who only wants one thing in exchange for those precious diamonds. And that’s Tarzan. Time for Rom to forge a plan and lure the lord of the jungle in a clever way to the dark African continent. The jeering jungle dweller is being accompanied by his lovely wife Jane (Margot “Focus” Robbie). Something else to be worried about.

    Is “The Legend of Tarzan” a bad movie? No, not really. But it isn’t an excellent movie either. It sometimes looks a little bit out dated. Even though Tarzan is placed in a totally different zeitgeist and his attitude towards the natives in Africa isn’t so explicitly authoritarian anymore. Even Jane isn’t such a sensitive screaming blonde in distress, who runs out of the jungle the moment a tiny wild animal shows itself. Ultimately, the film unfolds itself like a typical Tarzan story in which the terror of the jungle has to rescue his wife out of the hands of the bad guys. That’s how it also was portrayed in comics and the older movies. Lets say, it’s not such a legendary movie.

    Admit it. Tarzan doesn’t look like he could withstand the primal force of the Mangani and actually he should have ended up as a comfy carpet in some hut in the bush after receiving such hammer blows of this fearsome attacker. But I could live with that. After all, he’s a legend. This film is about THE legend. An unassailable and invincible superhero whose status reached iconic proportions. Clearly noticeable was the unconvincing look of the group of gorillas. Compared to “The Jungle Book”, the CGI of the wild animals sometimes really looked miserable. Then again, the flock of ostriches advancing in a “Jurassic Park” kind of way, were beautifully designed. The thing that went over my head (probably because I’m thinking with a rational mind), was the way they were chasing the speeding train. The way those lianas made sure they caught up with it, was mind blowing. What ingenious system was constructed to achieve this? I couldn’t figure it out immediately. But it still looked really ridiculous.

    “The Legend of Tarzan” is suitable material for a cozy movie night . There’s sufficient action to enjoy. And Samuel L. Jackson has been recruited to provide the comic relief. Margot Robbie looks breathtaking again as the “lady in distress.” And the confrontation between Tarzan and the tribe of Mbonga was brilliant until the digitized gorillas appeared on screen. The easiest part was played by Christoph Waltz. He just had to play himself again. A great actor, but he’s stuck in the same routine lately. Despite everything, Tarzan was,is and remains a vibrant legend.

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