What is it?
A “live-action” Tarzan movie.
Who’s it for?
Tarzan fanatics(?), kids and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ heirs.
The Legend of Tarzan is a collection of scenes with a dull lead actor and so much digital paint that it’s more animated than real. Alexander Skarsgard still has his True Blood vampire stare on and can’t keep a consistent accent. It’s a shame because he certainly looks the part even down to the physique.
The film dispenses with origins and takes us into what feels like a part 2. The backstory is exposed through flashbacks and many of the character’s motivations are revealed slowly throughout the movie. This tactic provides some surprises, but ultimately makes for an uninteresting and cartoony adventure.
The film begins with a series of detailed title cards. They are meant to explain the antagonist’s motivations and they are a harbinger of failed filmmaking. We meet the ill-defined villains of the piece in the first scene then spend three-quarters of the picture waiting to understand what they want. The film ultimately makes us understand, but at the expense of interest. I found myself remembering the opening cards around the time I realized I didn’t care anymore.
The action scenes are sharp and inventive when they’re animated. Sadly, director David Yates stuck to medium shots when working with fight scenes. Fast cuts bounce back and forth between the actors. He captures their faces, but not their feet. This distorts the choreography of the action. It’s chaotic and it feels out of place. The fully animated action doesn’t suffer the same issues. It flows quickly while still being readable to the eye.
The Legend of Tarzan was shot entirely in a studio. Every location is a digital painting that sparkles with color and contrast. I enjoy that kind of thing, but most people really don’t (think the SW prequels). The story attempts to balance this animated aesthetic with it’s own sense of reality. There’s an effort to reign in the Hollywood notions of Tarzan and bring him back to his pulpier roots. The yodeling is surprisingly conservative and there are explanations about his physical adaptations and a “dog whisperer” approach to the animals. Tarzan cannot overpower apes in this film. He’s just a man, but he can overpower men as though he were Captain America.
More than any prior Tarzan film, this one creates it’s own world. That’s the film’s strength. There are moments here where Tarzan is cool again. Moments, I say. It’s a shame Skarsgard doesn’t have the charisma to do the rest of the job.