We got a rough one here folks! Normally I wait a little bit after seeing a movie in the theaters to write one of these, you know, compose my thoughts and come up with an interesting way to tackle it. But not this time. I just got out of a screening of The Legend of Tarzan, and I know that I need to write up my article about it now, because I’m going to have forgotten almost all of it by tomorrow. And that’s not because of anything I’ve done. I’m completely sober and in a sound state of mind. But this movie was one of the most bland and just generally “nothing” movies I’ve seen in a long while. I don’t even have anything clever to say up here at the top. Usually I would talk about my personally relationship with Tarzan, which I don’t even really have, but I can’t even think of anything clever to say. I know Tarzan, you know Tarzan, we all know Tarzan. He’s one of those enduring characters in the Western Canon that we all hear about when we’re kids. I’ve never read any of the old pulpy adventure stories, and have really only seen the Disney movie, none of the other terrible live-action films. So I have no nostalgia or preconceived notions going into this movie, which you would think would be a good thing, seeing it was fresh eyes. Unfortunately none of that mattered, because this two hour long endurance test seemed to have nothing to do with any of the Tarzan mythos, and I don’t think any amount of freshness of the eyes could have helped with this mess.
Let’s talk about the plot! The film baffling takes place after all the fun Tarzan stuff we love. He’s long since left the jungle, and is living in England with Jane. But he’s dragged back to the Congo when an elaborate plot to bring him back begins. It involves a shady guy named Leon Rom who is working with real-life supervillain Leopold of Belgium. Rom wants a whole bunch of diamonds that come from a tribe run by a guy called chief Mbonga, who will give them the diamonds in exchange for Tarzan. So Leopold invites Tarzan, of John Clayton III as he insists on being called for most of the movie, to come hang out in the Congo, and the British government is totally down with it to participate in some good old-fashioned colonialism. Tarzan isn’t into this idea, until an American named Dr. George Washington Williams shows up, convincing Tarzan to go check out the Congo to make sure that they aren’t using slave labor to do whatever evil shit Leopold and Rom are up to. So Tarzan, Jane, and Williams head off to the Congo to stop the increasingly complicated plot.
So the trio get to Congo and head straight to the native village that Jane grew up in with her father. They hang out there, while we get a series of needless flashbacks to the history of Tarzan. It’s pretty pointless, and for some reason features a different actor as Tarzan, and just establishes everything we already know about the character. Anyway, they’re having fun hanging out in the village, catching up with the villagers, having sex in what I can only assume is Jane’s father’s bed, and getting drunk around a campfire. But then Rom and his army of Colonel Mustard’s show up to start killing the villagers and taking them hostage. So Tarzan goes all Batman on them, and start whooping ass. Until he’s caught, and dragged off to Rom’s steamboat. But he’s saved by Williams, who still has his Major Marquis Warren’s pistols, and he’s able to shoot most of them. So Williams and Tarzan are free, and Rom has Jane and a bunch of villagers on his evil boat, as they continue to lead Tarzan toward that Mbonga guy.
From there we just check in on Tarzan and Williams tracking the boat while Jane and Rom hang out on it, having a weird Marion/Belloq thing going on. Right away Tarzan and Williams jump onto a train full of Belgium soldiers, and proceed to have the dullest train-fight I’ve ever seen. I didn’t even know a train-fight could be boring. But they beat up a bunch of Belgians and then find some proof about Leopold’s slavery and other crimes. But instead of leaving with that, Williams decides to stick with Tarzan to fix everything. The Tarzan and Williams stuff is pretty dull, and drags on for a while. They run into Tarzan’s adopted gorilla brother, who they fight and have a weird joke about kissing testicles, and have a nice time stitching Tarzan’s shoulder up with ants. Bro time I guess. Anyway, they finally track Rom and Jane to Mbonga’s tribe, who give Rom the diamonds and prepare for a battle. Tarzan shows up and has a lackluster fight with Mbonga, who is dressed like a gritty reboot of a Black Panther villain. The fight is super quick, and Tarzan basically just apologizes, and then convinces him to join forces against Rom. That was easy. And once that’s over, Tarzan and Rom head to the city that the Belgians are living in to await their secret army. Oh yeah, the whole plot involves Leopold getting Rom to get diamonds from Mbonga’s tribe, in exchange for Tarzan, so they can buy an army of mercenaries, so they can…take over the world? I don’t know, let’s focus on the fact that Tarzan and his ape brother has round up a buffalo stampede to destroy the whole town! So that happens, and then the plot quickly starts to end with Williams and Tarzan saving Jane, before Tarzan gets onto Rom’s boat to stop him. They fight on it as Williams machine-guns the hell out of it, and everything turns out well as Tarzan makes a crocodile mating call, bringing some confused and aroused crocodiles to him so they can eat Rom. We then get a needless epilogue where we see Tarzan and Jane have staying in the jungle, living in that village, and have a child. As if they thought we would want to see further adventures of these dopes.
This movie. It certainly wasn’t the worse thing that I’ve seen since doing this site, but it’s really lackluster. It’s not bad, and it’s certainly not good. It’s just kind of a nothing movie. I have no idea why they thought we needed a new Tarzan movie, let alone a dark and gritty one with all the colors washed out like it was directed by Zach Snyder. Even though I don’t have any affinity for Tarzan, I like the idea of pulpy adventure heroes coming back into style. They can be super fun, and are usually full of fun and hope. But this movie really missed the mark on that. I’ve talked a lot before about the fact that a lot of the blockbusters nowadays, especially the ones based on DC comics characters, are dour grim-fests with no joy in them. So now would be a perfect time for a fun Tarzan flick. And yet instead we got this weird, half-baked little mess that tries to be all grim and gritty, and features a Tarzan that insists on not being called Tarzan for most of the movie like he’s in Young Frankenstein.
And not only that, the movie has a really weird vibe about it. A movie taking place in the age of colonialism, and featuring a plot about a white dude saving a bunch of Africans from some evil Belgians probably has to tread carefully when it comes to its subject matter. And yet, this movie took a strange stance. Yeah, the Belgian colonialists are the villains, but the movie doesn’t really make it seem like the British are wrong in doing it. They also talk about slavery a bit, but most of it comes from Americans, who had just barley gotten rid of the atrocity. Honestly, it kind of felt like the moral of the movie was bad guys are bad. It doesn’t really shame the colonialists, and gives equal fear to the colonialists and Mbonga’s tribe. I don’t know, the movie just didn’t work out that great. It just didn’t go anywhere, and kind of felt like it was somehow a Tarzan origin story, and like Tarzan 4. Watch out for this one folks. It’s no good.
The Legend of Tarzan was written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, directed by David Yates, and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, 2016.
Categories: Reel Talk