Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 2016. Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Jerry Weintraub Productions, Riche-Ludwig Productions, Beagle Pug Films. Story and Screenplay by Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer,based on the Tarzan stories created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Cinematography by Henry Braham. Produced by David Barron, Tony Ludwig, Alan Riche, Jerry Weintraub. Music by Rupert Gregson-Williams. Production Design by Stuart Craig. Costume Design by Ruth Myers. Film Editing by Mark Day.
How you gonna keep him down on the manse, after he’s seen the free, free jungles of Africa? Tarzan, now John Clayton, lord of Greystoke, has returned to the land of his ancestry and is the proper gentleman of his estate, living happily with his wife Jane and charming the children with his wide-spread knuckles (from years of walking on all fours) and ability to make amazing bird calls. The wild calls him back when an invitation is received to visit the Congo, where Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) once lived as the child of gorillas and where Jane (Margot Robbie) was raised nearby with her professor father, ostensibly to visit a Belgium mining concern that the British government would like him to investigate. He declines, but is convinced to take the trip by a persuasive American doctor (Samuel L. Jackson) who believes that the Belgian king is violating anti-slavery treaties and looking to destroy the local culture. Jane is only happy to visit her childhood homeland, but when they arrive they realize they have been duped into a trap set by the king’s appointed overseer (Christoph Waltz) who is trading Tarzan to a local warlord (Djimon Hounsou) in exchange for a giant supply of diamonds. One hopes this means that our hero will immediately rip off his shirt and reach for the nearest vine, but this stilted and self-important film makes a disingenuous attempt at a plot worthy of Amistad and laughably seeks to place the adventure within a genuine historic context. David Yates’ melodramatic direction fails in trying to have it all and never knowing which way to turn next, combining a plot that drops heavy themes of colonialism and slavery while presenting a cartoonish villain (Waltz is doing this Perfect Host Who Is Evil thing in his sleep by now), fight scenes between man and gorilla that defy physical logic, and a female heroine who, while delightfully self-sufficient, does not speak or behave in any way like a woman of the nineteenth century (including shouting “Oh my God!” at the appearance of an old friend). The visual effects bomb more often than they succeed, as Tarzan looks like he’s swinging in front of a computer screen, and the animals rarely come off as real, while Jackson seems to be the only one having a good time. His character is, ironically, the progeny of centuries of slavery, visiting a country for the first time where the white guy knows his way around better than he does, and this is never fully explored and Jackson doesn’t give a damn, firmly deciding to whoop it up in a film that lets him shoot guns and jump off cliffs. The inclusion of actual historical details does little to counteract what is false and awkward, but the few beautiful location shots, Skarsgard’s body (which almost makes up for his distinct lack of personality) and Jackson’s endless glee makes for a passable time regardless, even if it is nowhere near as fun or imaginative as it should be.