THE MOVIE GUY: ‘Tarzan’ mediocre as previous films

Published 11:22 pm Thursday, June 30, 2016

There have been dozens of movies, TV shows and even a Broadway play based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan” books. None of them have been very good, usually swinging by on the strength of a fantastic story idea, but crashing down when it came to the difficulty of getting a human actor to interact believably with a jungle full of sentient animals.

As was evidenced by “The Jungle Book” earlier this year, we are now at a place where computers can believably render CGI characters, so there was a lot of hope that the new movie, “The Legend of Tarzan” might finally get it right this time around.

Unfortunately, the new film fails just as surely as every other “Tarzan” movie.

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Alexander Skarsgard plays the Lord of the Jungle, and we begin with him already back in Great Britain until an American man (Samuel L. Jackson) convinces our hero to return to the Congo and investigate whether Belgian King Leopold II is doing something nefarious in the region.

Spoiler alert — he is.

Or rather, his henchman (Christoph Waltz) has evil plans in motion, which involve luring Tarzan and his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), back to Africa. It doesn’t take long before Jane has been captured and Tarzan has to swing into action to rescue his beloved.

All things considered, that’s not a bad story, but somehow it all falls flat when transferred to the big screen. The magic of the “Tarzan” story is found in his ability to command the jungle animals, not in the damsel in distress storyline.

Some might also argue that a big part of Tarzan’s magic is found in his swinging through the jungle without his shirt. Skarsgard certainly has the physicality to pull this off, and I suspect that there will be several members of the audience who will forgive the inert story and unimpressive special effects, content to simply stare longingly at Skarsgard’s physique.

There’s no denying the fact that this Tarzan is a very good looking man, but it would have been nice to surround him with other characters who were just as appealing. Jane gets to be a bit of a feminist crusader, but her damsel in distress story line undercuts any her girl power updates. Jackson is saddled as the comic relief and has to literally jump on Tarzan’s back to keep up. And Waltz is back doing his quiet-but-deadly villain thing. Quite frankly, it’s getting to be a bit boring and predictable.

“The Legend of Tarzan” is also quite predictable in how it treats the Congolese (poorly) on screen and in how these stories always devolve into white savior hero quests that are increasingly difficult to stomach when viewed with modern sensibilities.

All of which adds up to yet another mediocre Tarzan movie. Yes, the computer generated animals are pretty well rendered and the jungle is lush and inviting, but the story and central characters fall flat due to cliched performances and a surprisingly inert adventure.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at