Turgid Tarzan turkey is totally bananas

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Sherlock Holmes might hold the record for the most portrayed literary human character in TV and film and Dracula might be the most portrayed non-human to have sprung from the pages of a book, but for my money neither of them can hold a candle to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ totally badass Tarzan. The high-flying hero of at least twenty-four official Rice Burroughs’ novels and countless more books, comics, movies, TV shows, and stage productions, the King of the Apes even scored a Best Original Song Oscar for Disney’s animated Tarzan back in 2000. But something about Tarzan tends to bring out the inner snob in even his most rabid devotees (perhaps it’s the loincloth) and for whatever reason Tarzan tales are still routinely regarded in many circles as pulpy adventure yarns rather than the truly great literature that many of the source novels actually are.

Which might explain why most modern Tarzan film adaptations tend to fall into two distinct camps: bloated, overly-serious adaptations that try to “church up” the material – like 1984’s dreadfully boring Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes – or campy, sexed-up, adaptations like 1982’s Razzie Award-winning Tarzan, the Ape Man, which featured the now-infamous scene of a chimpanzee playfully nibbling on Bo Derek’s naked breast. Yep, that actually happened in the film and it’s even creepier than it sounds.

And though director David Yates’ (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Parts 1 and 2) tone deaf The Legend of Tarzan falls somewhere squarely between the two camps, the fact that Yates and company try and dress up the proceedings with an overly-long intro set in 19th century England places this snooze-worthy summer stinker squarely in the Lord and Lady Greystoke category. And if you ask me, that’s never a good thing.

Long, boring and often just downright stupid, Legend follows the classic Tarzan origin story – young boy orphaned in Africa, raised by giant apes to become king of the jungle – pretty closely, to a point. But since most of Legend is told through a needlessly-complicated series of shadowy flashbacks during Tarzan’s present day return to the jungle from his estate in England to stop crooked Belgian colonialist from raping the Congo of its diamonds, it’s easy to get confused.

Not helping matters much are the totally bloodless lead performances of Alexander Skarsgård (Melancholia, TV’s True Blood) as Tarzan and Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Jane. Skarsgård and Robbie have done spectacular work elsewhere and they might just be two of the hottest people on the planet (especially when wet, as they often are here) but to say that the two lack chemistry as a fictional onscreen couple is the understatement of the century. Seriously, I haven’t seen beautiful people with such few sparks flying between them since a dead-eyed Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins awkwardly played house on a deserted island in The Blue Lagoon. Simply put, Skarsgård and Robbie are awful together and even worse when they’re apart and trying desperately to portray realistic longing and/or concern for one another. I know it sounds crazy, but they even kiss badly.

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For better or worse that leaves most of the dramatic heavy lifting to Tarantino regulars Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, The Hateful Eight) and two-time Academy Award-winner Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes, Django Unchained) who try their best to keep this sinking ship afloat in very weird supporting turns. Waltz actually isn’t that terrible as Legend’s sharp-tongued Belgian baddie Leon Rom, but Jackson’s distinctively modern take on his improbably-named American diplomat, George Washington Williams will surely one day be the stuff of bad movie acting legend. Jackson literally phones this one in from start to finish and as bad as that sounds it’s actually the best part of the movie.

Equally squandered in another thankless supporting turn is two-time Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, In America) as a vengeful tribal chieftain with a serious bone to pick with Tarzan. But the real loser here is the Tarzan franchise itself. The fact that this is the best Tarzan adventure that Yates and screenwriters Adam Cozard (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow, Black Snake Moan) can conjure up for digital age viewers is really depressing and will make you long for the good old days of Johnny Weissmuller and his signature yell like nobody’s business.

Now playing on select British Airways, JetBlue, United, Lufthansa, Delta, American Airlines, and Emirates flights worldwide, The Legend of Tarzan is also available via streaming on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Video.

19 Comments

  1. Michael Sellers

    Every once in awhile I read a review that tells me much, much more about the reviewer than it does about the movie. This is such a review. There is hardly a substantive word in the entire review. That said, wow, it’s a pretty epic rant.

    The movie is actually quite good.

  2. GLEN DRAKE

    Snark aside, the writer misses a few facts, like George Washington Williams was an actual historical figure…improbably named or not. Also, while I am not a fan of the “blonde” Tarzan phenomena, I do not fault his or Ms Robbie’s Tarzan and Jane. So OK you didn’t like it… I dud.

  3. Bob Hibbard

    Wow! You have totally missed the heart and soul of this wonderful film. What a shame that people might, because of your superficiality and lack of understanding, decide not to see what many life long Tarzan/ Edgar Rice Burroughs fans consider to be the best Tarzan movie ever made. Please, people, don’t pay attention to this guy–he doesn’t have a clue. The movie is terrific!

  4. Bob Saunders

    I guess I saw a different movie…or maybe it’s because I didn’t see it at 40,000 feet and had more oxygen going to my brain.
    I saw a classic adventure film updated for a modern audience, and with a first-rate cast.

    This reviewer succeeds in being flippant…so, bravo! I hope that was his only purpose in writing it. His description and characterization of the film are not even close to my experience…and to many others, judging from it’s current 62 percent positive rating on RT, and its worldwide box office of close to $360 million. Not a mega-hit, but respectable.

    Laughably, he acts like he’s a fan of the old Johnny Weissmuller films…I wonder how many he’s actually watched? And, by the last sentence of his first paragraph (admittedly difficult to decipher) I can tell with certainty he’s never read any of the original stories.

  5. Rudy sigmund

    Whoa…. I always thought that a movie review was to review the film and not an exercise in self promoting drivial. Why does this writer try and sound so self important that he goes on and on about nothing and not one thing about the movie. I saw the movie and did not see one thing he mentioned. I guess it’s true that all some critics do is criticize because they can’t contribute anything if value themselves So clueless that he makes fun of Samuel Jackson screen name and not even aware that he was an actual person with that name. Again hard to comment on such drivial posing as a review of a film.

  6. John Pappas

    “The Legend of Tarzan” is probably the best movie rendition version of a Tarzan story.
    The acting is excellent, and contrary to the above critic’s remarks, the chemistry between the Tarzan and Jane characters is perfect. Skarsgard and Robbie are perfect as Tarzan and Jane.
    In the Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan speaks perfect English as well as other languages, unlike the broken , monosyllabic speech in many earlier Tarzan movies. There’s no “umgawa” or such nonsense.
    My recommendation is that folks should just see this movie. It captures the same “magic” as movies like “Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” “Harry Potter,” and other such fun films.
    You’ll enjoy it! Ignore the negative comments of critics who revel in the sound of their own “clever” negativity.

  7. Diane Miller

    I find your review shocking. “The Legend of Tarzan” is a great film that has adventure, comedy and, yes, romance. Skarsgard and Robbie are both great and even better together. From their first meeting to the touching finale, their unusual love story drives the film. But there’s plenty for everyone — gorgeous locale, breathtaking stunts, amazing CGI. This Tarzan is a multi-layered film worth multiple viewings.

  8. Maggiesview

    After many critics tanked Legend of Tarzan he laid in bed thinking” They didn’t get it” and you are obviously one of those people who just didn’t get it. Thankfully most of the audience did get it. That’s why they gave it an A- cinema score. The president and most members of Edgar Rice Buroughs ,Inc loved it. WB did a special sceening for them. The president was overcome with emotion at the fact that someone had finally made a version of Tatza that was close to the Tarzan that ERB had created. I believe the president of ERB ,Inc. is the grandson of ERB. He,the other mebebers of the org, and fans of the books don’t think the Johnny Weismuelker version is the least bit true to the books, First of all he speaks English in severely limited broken English using one or two words to replace a sentence. Tarzan was a natural linguist and mimic. He spoke several languages flawlessly. Book Tarzan like the Tarzan in the Legend of Tarzsan went to Englsnd and learned to be a British Lord and he did it flawlessly. He was a taciturn,serious man of few words in conflict between his primal side and his civilized side just as Skarsgard played him. And if you couldn’t feel the chemistry between he and Margo Robbie that’s probably because you rejected this Tarzan ( the one closest to what ERB created and were busy pining away for a Tarzan closer to the Weismueller version. There’s just no help for those that simply don’t get it. It’s like trying to explain a joke to someone who doesn’t ” get it”. Oh,well it’s your loss and a huge gain for those of who did get it.

  9. Martin Smiddy MBE

    1) A chimpanzee DID NOT nibble on Janes nipple in the 1981 (Not 1982) Tarzan the Ape Man.
    2) The relationship between Skargard and Robbie is perfect for the rating of the film……if this inadequate reviewer is more used to watching love based on the porn he must watch in the time he should spend reviewing a film instead of just slagging it off review, then he would be disappointed.

    If there is no more to feviewing a film than slagging it off then any idiot could do it, which is what this reviewer appears to be with his insane ramblings. He clearly has no lnowledge of the history of Tarzan as written by ERBurroughs and no knowledge of the Tarzan films other than Saturday morning matinees for kids and the late-nate saucey stuff he is flicking around looking for!
    There is no mention of how the film relates to the book because he has probably not seen one or read the other.
    What grieves me is that losers like this actually get oaid for writing this drivel in the name of a review. HE is the one not only ripping off the company paying hm, but also the Tarzan franchise……Edgar Rice Burroughs Incorporated should sue him for being libelous!

  10. Tomás Romero

    Wow! I guess I really did see a different movie than you guys. 🙂

    In my defense I grew up watching the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films with my Dad and, for better or worse, those will always be my favorites. They had a warmth and old-school charm that I think this new, bloodless, CGI-laden Tarzan simply lacked. That said, I am very glad to know that there are still so many hardcore Tarzan fans out there and I remain ever hopeful that the next one (provided the studio greenlights a sequel) will be a Tarzan that we all will love!

  11. Lamont Cranston

    Mr. Romero, you cite the twenty-four official Rice Burroughs’ novels in you statement of how totally badass Tarzan is as a character but it is obvious you are not at all familiar with the novels or original content. There is nothing wrong per say with the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films but they do not truly represent the actual character. Legend of Tarzan is the movie that so many people have been waiting a long time for to happen. It is not without it’s flaws but it is very well done and entertaining as well following and being true to the original canon stories. When I first saw the David Lynch’s “Dune” I enjoyed it and it compelled me to read the novel. I do not believe I would have enjoyed the film nearly as well had I read the novel prior to have seeing the film. I still have a soft spot for David Lynch’s movie despite how poorly it actually portrayed the characters and story because it encouraged me to read the book. I suggest you treat yourself to a reading of the first few Burroughs’ novels and see what you have really been missing.

  12. Maggiesview

    Skarsgard also grew up watching the Weismuller films with his Dad because his Dad loved them so much. Yet he was capable of seeing the merit of this characterization .He said one of the biggest reasons he chose to go after this role was to make his Dad happy. It seems he Never thought his father would be so deeply entrenched in the Weismuller version ,he couldn’t accept a different version. A photo taken at the Swedish premier clearly show the joy and pride on Stellans face as he congratulates his son for a job well done. He,apparently was capable of appreciating a Tarzan that was different from his long time favorite, you ,on the other hand ,seem to be one of those people who can not tolerate anything different from your original imprinting experience.

  13. bOb Owen

    Whoa! Mr. Romero, I’m sure glad I missed the movie you saw. It does sound like a stinkeroo. But The Legend Of Tarzan starring Alexander Skarsgard in the titular role, IS the movie I DID see and it is a great, exciting CGI-filled action-adventure film that easily outdistances all the old Tarzan films of yore. I, too, am a big fan of the old Weissmuller/Tarzan films but they belong in the past and the new Tarzan film should, and did, depart from that mold. It was time for a Tarzan film that follows, at least somewhat, Edgar Rice Burroughs original concept. This movie accomplished that very well and, I hope, will set the standard for any future Tarzan films.
    Read the first few Tarzan novels and then see this film again.
    I shouldn’t say you were wrong in your review because your review is your opinion. But man, you were wrong! Way off the mark! It may not be what you expected, but it was/is a great piece of entertainment. See it again. I dare you.

  14. Vern Rochon

    This is far and away the BEST Tarzan film ever produced, largely — but certainly not only — because of its faithfulness to the literature’s mythology. You are, of course, entitled to your opinion but it’s my belief that reviews like yours is why the box office is not nearly what it could have been and that, quite frankly, pisses me off. Not everyone can easily afford a night out at the movies and perhaps read reviews to gauge their interests and I suspect that a lot of people who read your review went to see another film, not realizing how good LOT is. If you’re going to state your opinion about something, fine. It would sure be nice if you knew what the hell you were talking about.

  15. Tomás Romero

    Thanks for your comments, Vern, but I’m afraid you give me much more credit than I deserve. Seeing as my review was published almost six months after the film was released in the U.S., I doubt it had any impact on The Legend of Tarzan’s initial box office returns. But if you still feel the need to blame someone for Tarzan’s opening weekend haul, blame Dory. In its third weekend in theaters Finding Dory easily beat out Tarzan for the top spot on a very competitive Fourth of July weekend.

    Oh, and if it makes you feel any better, I liked Finding Dory even less than I liked Tarzan, so, there’s always that.

  16. Rob M

    I loved this film, and I’m a big fan of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. It just goes to show, if you start watching a film, having made up your mind that you’re going to see a stinker, that’s what you’ll see. I watched the film with an open mind and thought it excellent. The cast are excellent, the story is a fine update that stays true to the original books, and the effects are superb. Watch the film with an open mind and you will enjoy it!

  17. Bill Wagner

    Improbable as it seems both George Washington Williams and Rom are the real names of real historical characters.

    Romney us the basis for Kurtz in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and by extension Marlon Brandon’s character in Apocalypse Now.

    Or so I have thought.

  18. James Gomez

    Well I think I know who’s NOT getting invited to be a guest speaker at the next meeting of the Burroughs book club! LOL