Wednesday 28 December 2016

The Legend of Tarzan

Jungle Gym

The Legend of Tarzan
UK/Canada/USA 2016
Directed by David Yates
Warner Bros Blu Ray Zone B

Due to a coincidental turn of events, both the leading ladies in my life received a copy of The Legend of Tarzan as part of their Christmas haul this year. Firstly, I remembered my sexy lady friend had expressed an interest in seeing the movie at the time of its release but didn’t get an opportunity to see it... so I picked a copy up for her. Then, by a strange twist of fate, a few weeks later my mother also expressed an interest in seeing it... so she got one too (what is it with Tarzan and the ladies?).

Now, I wasn’t too keen on seeing this one myself. I had managed to, almost by accident, avoid it when it was released into cinemas earlier in the year and I didn’t think that I would have to bother to catch up to it. Alas, it was the first movie my mother wanted to watch on Boxing Day this year so, alas, I had to sit through it after all. Which ultimately, it turns out, was not actually a bad thing.

I’m not the biggest fan of Tarzan, it has to be said. Sure I used to watch the Ron Ely, Lex Barker, Jock Mahony and Gordon Scott versions of the character when I was a young ‘un. My favourite of all of them in my early years was, of course, the Johnny Weissmuller series of movies... there’s no topping those ones. I never got to see Buster Crabbe play the role but, you know, that one’s in the ‘to watch’ pile for sometime in the future. Edgar Rice Burroughs was never about Tarzan for me, though... he was all about John Carter of Mars, as far as I was concerned. The Tarzan stories were just a curiosity... although, like a lot of kids my age, I had the Mego action figure with the curious skin coloured costume made to look like skin slipped over the already skin coloured action figure plastic... never could figure that out.

So, yeah, I wasn’t exactly fussed about seeing this but I quite like Alexander Skarsgård as an actor... maybe not as much as his father but, heck, he’s a pretty good performer in my book and the agenda for this movie, it has to be said, seems to be one of getting a load of great performers together to get it all to work. So, supporting Skarsgård we have Margot Robbie, the always brilliant Samuel L. Jackson (who seems a bit of an anachronism in terms of his status in the time in which this movie is set... but I’m no expert so I might be wrong on that) and the often outstanding Christoph Waltz as the villain of the piece.

Now one of the things I was most afraid of when sitting down to watch the movie is that it would be yet another interminable ‘origins of the Lord of the Jungle’ movie but, as it happens, the writers wisely jettison the lengthy build up to the creation of Tarzan and go for a more interesting plot line while still, as it happens, trying to have their cake and eat it in terms of the origins department. That is to say, the film is set many years after Tarzan was ‘himself’ and he is now firmly enshrined in his Lord Greystoke personality... until a combination of the villain orchestrating his return to the jungle combined with Samuel L. Jackson’s ‘good guy on a mission to free the slaves’ character pushing from the other side of the equation forces Tarzan to return to his roots. Needless to say, things go pear shaped quickly and we have a jungle romp where the villain is trying to manipulate Tarzan towards his death for personal gain while taking Jane as a hostage.

Now, the origin of Tarzan is still included in the film but the writers have it as a slowly developing series of flashbacks inserted into the main narrative at regularly paced intervals. It’s not needlessly long and it also serves to inform the relationship between the main lead and his romantic interest via effective cinematic shorthand so... it not only backs up the main character but it’s also used to enrich the character arc and, above all, doesn’t outstay its welcome. I found this a much better solution to the usual ‘origins’ problems modern film-makers seem to want to needlessly lumber themselves with so... the movie gets a big tick with me for that.

The Legend Of Tarzan is nicely shot with some wonderful use of three (at least three) different colour palettes... with the scenes in London all being lit with a steely blue bent to show the coldly neutral prison that the main characters' lives have, almost without them realising it, become. These are offset with some yellowish, not quite sepia but heading to that kind of overt colour coding, flashback scenes and, as I was expecting... the full monty in terms of all the colours of the rainbow when we get to the contemporary (to the characters) jungle scenes. So the people behind the camera really thought about this one in an intelligent fashion and it really shows. The film is, in some ways, a joy to watch and I was much taken with both the visuals and, as I intimated earlier, the performances.

Where the film goes wrong is in some of the dialogue. A lot of it is good but, alas, I still think Christoph Waltz is not having good enough dialogue written for him. I’ve not seen him do anything to equal the lines he’s given in the Quentin Tarantino movies he’s starred in and, while Tarantino is a pretty good writer, I don’t think this is because he’s the only one able to write for Waltz. I just think the approach to his personality is not hitting the mark with a lot of his Hollywood productions, it has to be said. I mean, the dialogue they gave him in those terrible Clash Of The Clans adverts about a year ago was pretty good and a darn site better than a lot of the US made movies he’s been in... so I don’t think it should be this hard to get a screenwriter who understands the kind of material that Waltz absolutely excels at. And that’s really not knocking Waltz... he still does a phenomenal job here but... I just felt his scenes could have done with a lot more dialogue to play around with than what he gets here.

Still, that’s a minor complaint in an otherwise cool movie and, although I was less taken with Rupert Gregson-Williams' completely appropriate but perhaps overly clichéd score to the movie, I overall had a good time with this and some of the dialogue was, indeed, excellent. The chemistry between Alexander Skarsgård and Samuel L. Jackson, for example, really works well and they should maybe put the two in more films together, methinks.

And that’s all I got to say about that one. Not the best Tarzan movie I’ve seen but a lot better than most of the attempts made in, maybe, the last 30 years or so by a long chalk. If you like the Tarzan character then this is an enjoyable, if empty, take on the character and you should find yourself suitably entertained by a fine action film. It’s never going to get anywhere near my 2016 top ten list but it’s certainly not the film I was expecting it to be. So The Legend Of Tarzan is well worth a look if you have some free time on your hands, I reckon.

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