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Me Tarzan, you lame - 'The Legend of Tarzan'

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Blockbuster treatment of beloved character a flat, generic bore

Few fictional characters are as ingrained in the collective consciousness quite like Tarzan. From his first appearance in Edgar Rice Burroughs's 'Tarzan of the Apes' back in 1912, the story of a man born and raised in the African jungle a man who learned to live among the animals by becoming one with the animals has resonated.

Burroughs wrote 24 Tarzan books; the character has been adapted scores of times for just about every possible medium radio, television, stage and cinema in the century since his creation. However, the majority of these adaptations have proven to be less than successful.

'The Legend of Tarzan,' with serious star power and a huge budget, aimed to buck that trend. Unfortunately, despite a great cast and a great look, the film never quite manages to capture the spirit of the story in a truly engaging way.

The story takes place in the years after Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard, 'Hidden') has returned to England and claimed his rightful identity as John Clayton, Lord Greystoke. He and his wife Jane (Margot Robbie, 'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot') are (mostly) happy to put their time in the African Congo behind them.

Meanwhile, the King of Belgium has charged a man by the name of Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz, 'Spectre') with finding a way to exploit the mineral rights of his country's share of the Congo. Rom's ruthlessness leads to the formation of an alliance with Chief Mbonga (Djimon Honsou, 'Air'), a man who seeks vengeance on Tarzan.

An invitation to the Congo is extended, but Tarzan only accepts due to the persuasion of American envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson, 'The Hateful Eight'). Tarzan and Williams along with Jane head to the Congo to find out just what is being done in the name of Belgian progress.

Quite a lot, as it turns out none of it good.

Tarzan is forced to reconnect with the man that he was a man we see glimpses of through flashbacks throughout in order to save his friends, his family and the lands that he once called home. He must do battle with enemies human and animal alike if he is to have any hope of protecting those that matter to him most.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about 'The Legend of Tarzan' is how it squanders some pretty decent pieces. There are aspects to this movie that are actually quite good, but they're largely lost in the morass of a less-than-compelling narrative. The film looks fantastic, with the jungles and plains of the Congo vividly rendered, but that aesthetic is wasted in service of a film that is undermined by a nigh-glacial pace.

Director David Yates who's best known for helming the last four Harry Potter films (he's also directing the Potter spinoff 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' gives the impression of having some interesting ideas, but he's hamstrung by the myriad limitations present in the script co-written by Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad.

(It's worth noting that there is a sad lack of action throughout. There are moments and a couple of solid set pieces, but it's remarkable that they've managed to take source material this rich and make it so very dull. Truthfully, it's reminiscent of the debacle that was 'John Carter' based on a different Burroughs creation a few years ago. Expect to hear plenty about that connection in discussions of the disappointing box office returns in the days to come.)

It's also a sad waste of a very talented cast. Skarsgard is a good fit as Tarzan; his grumbling lack of affect suits the character nicely. Robbie continues to prove herself as a quality performer; her Jane is a good deal less damsel-in-distress than you might expect. Plus, you've got Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz - two exceptional character actors let loose to do what they do; Waltz in particular seems to delight in gnawing on the scenery whenever he's on-screen. Alas, even solid performances do little to enhance the overall experience. It's a game group, but they simply have too much to overcome.

'The Legend of Tarzan' never really had a chance. It's the saddest sort of flop, the kind of misfire that results from completely misjudging what makes a character/story/whatever compelling in the first place. It's dull and bland and riddled with generic storytelling, dousing whatever occasional spark it shows with genre clichs and uninteresting choices. A swing and a miss.

[2 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 January 2017 19:43

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