REVIEW: Legend of Tarzan
When Warner Bros announced they were making a new Tarzan film, the first question among fans was, “Do we really need another Tarzan movie?” The character has had more interpretations and reboots than just about any other pop culture figure from the 20th Century and it felt that his relevance has passed. The answer, surprisingly then, is that yes, we needed this one.
The Legend of Tarzan, out now from Warner Home Entertainment, is very faithful to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creation, honoring the time-honored story of the infant raised by apes, who just happened to be an English lord. The cleverness in the script from Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) and Adam Cozad (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) which picks up eight years later, after Lord John Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgård) has returned to England with Jane Porter (Margot Robbie) as his bride. They also steep the story in events that were contemporary at the time, things ERB usually avoided in favor of the fantastic.
The plight of the African tribes as the Dark Continent was seen as increasingly valuable and the slaughter of animals for their horns, tusks, and pelts started to shift the ecosystem’s balance. It took the efforts of an American, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), to bring the world’s attention to these problems. The man was real and not just added for a token black role and thankfully, Jackson was the right figure to bring the character to life. Williams comes to England to ask Parliament to invite Greystoke to accompany him to Africa to investigate.
England is cold, gray, and dreary, stifling John and Jane so the decision is fairly easy and director David Yates does a masterful job contrasting civilization with the simpler, happier tribal life. Still, they’re there for a reason who is made manifest by Léon Auguste Théophile Rom (Christoph Waltz), another historically accurate figure and said to be the model for Joseph Conrad’s Colonel Kurtz. Rom is there to tilt the balance of African power toward King Leopold in Belgium, fueled by stealing a cache of diamonds deep in the Congo. In exchange for helping Rom, Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) has demanded Tarzan with whom he has a grudge.
And off we go. There are plenty of fine set pieces here that honors the traditions of Tarzan movies, along with winks and nods to the character’s worldwide legend. We have flashbacks to fill in the details of Tarzan’s past and have an over-the-top animal stampede in the third act. It’s far from a perfect film with Waltz playing a now stock villain complete with a dinner scene that seemed lifted wholesale from Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Mbonga subplot was thoroughly unnecessary and was more of a distraction since the theme of Great White Hero versus Great White Exploiter of the Natives was a clearer narrative.
The film is lush with the jungle life and great attention to the animal and tribal life helps ground the story. Skarsgård and Robbie have a wonderful chemistry and you believe in their bond and faith in one another. Jackson adds just enough comic relief to be an able sidekick along with representing the audience in his awe of the life he finds deep within the trees.
The film’s 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer to Blu-ray is sharp, clear, and helps convince you we are in 1890 Africa. Slightly better is the Dolby Atmos soundtrack.
The Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD combo pack comes with a handful of special features although it is noteworthy that commentary, deleted scenes, and the like are absent in favor of Electronic Press Kit-worthy featurettes. The lack of cool features here is an example of Warner’s disappointment at the film’s undeserved failure at the box office. There’s Tarzan Reborn (15:10), an overview of the thinking behind this production; Battles and Bare-Knuckle Brawls, which examines three action scenes –Tarzan vs. Akut (5:15), Boma Stampede (4:53), and Train Ambush (4:57); Tarzan and Jane’s Unfailing Love (6:01); Creating the Virtual Jungle (15:16); Gabon to the Screen (2:28) which stood in for the Congo; and, Stop Ivory (1:30), a PSA with the stars.