It’s been nearly a decade since Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), also known as John Clayton III, left Africa to live in Victorian England with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). Danger lurks on the horizon as Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a treacherous envoy for Belgium’s King Leopold, devises a scheme that lures the couple to the Congo. Rom plans to capture Tarzan and deliver him to an old enemy, Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), in exchange for diamonds. When Jane becomes a pawn in his devious plot, Tarzan must return to the jungle to save the woman he loves.
Another from my list of most anticipated films of 2016. The trailers looked exciting enough but there was always a concern that the CGI might overshadow the rest of the film. It would be easy to compare this to another CGI animal film released earlier this year in The Jungle Book which was a beautiful film but its effects did not distract from the story. Whether or not this will be the case here remains to be seen. Another reason people will be drawn to this, similar to The Jungle Book, will be nostalgia as most people are very familiar with both. This is what drew me. Skarsgård’s viability as Tarzan is yet to be determined but we’ll see.
What may surprise some is that this is not an origin story as this film begins 10 years after the story we all know with Tarzan (Skarsgård) leaving Africa along with his wife Jane (Robbie) in Victorian England. The film does not ignore Tarzan’s origins, however, since the film tries to explore his origin and how he eventually met Jane through a series of flashbacks. These were interesting to watch but they did not go far enough (perhaps another film can?).
Of course this does not last forever as he is forced to go back when he is lured by a man named Leon Rom (Waltz) who needs to capture him in order to exchange him for diamonds. Tarzan, or John Clayton III, doesn’t go alone as he is joined by Jane and a man named George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson). Because the film is set 10 years later, its depiction of Tarzan is more fascinating here as he is portrayed as a celebrity. Everyone in the world, or at least England, knows about him and his many exploits. The film assumes we already know about him which was fair since it did not offer much of an origin story. People looked at him differently since they were in awe of him.
The bulk of the plot occurs in Congo but it was very slow in getting there. The film kind of holds our hand a little too much with its use of Williams. It eases us into the world by juxtaposing Williams’ experience with Tarzan’s. Williams represents us viewers in that he is surprised, amazed, and often exhausted by what was happening. This made him more of a buddy cop type character and sort of a comic relief. This worked for the most part with Jackson often stealing scenes in a way that only Jackson could. He and Skarsgård had great chemistry and his involvement definitely added more energy to their relationship.
This relationship was more one-sided here as Jackson’s Williams doing most of the work here. He had to prop up both him and Skarsgård as his performance was almost lifeless and lacking any energy. This was not entirely his fault as no one would argue that he looks the part but the film relied more on Skarsgård’s physicality than his words in that it did not give him that much to say. It was a good decision to rely on his physicality but the film did a little too much here.
Seeing Margot Robbie as Jane was odd here, being miscast here. She stood out here for the wrong reasons by never really fitting within the film’s setting, often distracting from the film. Waltz is good at everything he does which has often been bad guys. There’s nothing new or original here in terms of Waltz bad guys but he was still good here, often stealing scenes based on screen presence alone. Hounsou was okay as Mbonga but his conflict with Tarzan was never fully established.
It’ll be hard not to notice the special effects here as the film relies on it just as much as Skarsgård’s physicality. A lot of the big CGI moments will be obvious here and it was mostly hit or miss. Some of the moments were good, like the vine swinging and the animals, and some were not as good, like whenever animals and humans were on screen together. The problem with it was that it often distracted from the action on screen. As far as actual action, there wasn’t that much which was a little disappointing. The film’s story isn’t the most original but it felt more like it Tarzan was only a vehicle for the writers to speak about the atrocities in the Congo. This film could have been many other films as it went in several directions.
Overall, this was a decent adventure film with some nice effects but was slightly lacking in story and was let down by its direction.