The Legend of Tarzan
- Emma Simmonds
- 4 July 2016
Beautiful but bland take on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s wild man, with Alexander Skarsgård
Trading high camp for furrowed brow, this latest crack at Edgar Rice Burroughs’s ‘swinger’ has the scope and swagger of a modern blockbuster but, tonally, it’s a pretty turgid affair. A man who looks distinctly uncomfortable in clothes, Alexander Skarsgård is an apt choice for Tarzan – and he certainly comes into his own when shirtlessly scrapping – though the Swedish star, who perfected his brooding as a vampire in True Blood, has far less to get his teeth stuck into here.
David Yates (the British director of four of the eight Harry Potters) steers the course of a film which eschews the origin approach in favour of a fresh story and fleeting how-it-all-began flashbacks. Set in the late 19th century, it finds Skarsgård’s Tarzan – aka John Clayton III, fifth Earl of Greystoke – unhappily ensconced in his ancestral home in London.
The film incorporates a real historical figure, Léon Rom, the envoy of King Leopold II of Belgium, into the action. As played by Christoph Waltz, he’s painted as a dastardly moustache-twirler (the devil wears linen apparently) who manipulates Tarzan into returning to his beloved Congo, with plucky wife Jane (Margot Robbie) in tow, where Rom has engineered a face-off with Tarzan’s old adversary Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) in exchange for a bounty of diamonds.
There are attempts to bring the heroics up to date: Tarzan boasts superhero-esque prowess and a sassy sidekick in Samuel L Jackson’s George Washington Williams (also based on a real man). However, despite ostensible sensitivity to issues of colonialism and enslavement, the film is, at its heart, a tale of a Caucasian liberator that positively revels in the gleaming whiteness of its beautiful blonde leads.
And Jane might spit in the face of the man who would have her play the damsel, yet she still spends a substantial portion of the movie in chains awaiting rescue. Punchy action and Henry Braham’s alternately moody and sun-kissed cinematography keeps it intermittently entertaining but, by attempting to appease traditionalists and newcomers in equal measure, The Legend of Tarzan has compromised itself into anonymity.
General release from Wed 6 Jul.