By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Not even Tarzan can save the pulps from getting a new life in cinema in the 21st century. Many movies made in the past 16 years tried to rescue this genre and sadly not many of these action heroes from long ago can withstand the test of time. Just ask The Lone Ranger (he made his first appearance in radio). When compared to the genre movies released around 1990, more of those cinematic heroes proved to be memorable.
While The Legend of Tarzan is a pop cultural icon, not every iteration has been as well received. The last jungle movie I recall enjoying was Chris Lambert in the role before Disney turned it into an animated action comedy. After seeing this film, I felt more inclined to tune in to the animated version since I enjoyed the Disney Afternoon version of this hero constantly saving Jane from threats from the Jungle. This movie lacked a certain oomph to make it a tentpole product for Warner Bros. Entertainment.
In this latest film, however, Jane is not always that damsel in distress. This latest incarnation of Jane’s saviour is played by Alexander Skarsgård, and he joins a very exclusive club of actors who played this wild man. He has the charm to win Jane (Margot Robbie) heart and she is the type not to give in. When she has to contend with the skittish Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz) more than her husband, she can hold her own and this modern update is good to change her up a bit. Rom is too much of a cookie-cutter. He works for King Leopold, who is on the verge of declaring bankruptcy, and is about to change the Congo for the worse. He’s enslaving the native population and wanting to exploit Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) because this king holds control of the diamond mines.
I went to see this film more for seeing how the two villains are played instead of the heroes. Waltz is always amazing to watch because he deeply immerses himself into the roles. As Rom, he’s oozing in sleaziness. Although he does not hit the same levels as Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, there’s an unease about him which worked. The reason is because a certain tribal king wants Tarzan’s head and Rom is tasked with the job. If challenging the lord of the jungle is not bad enough, he knows the quest will not be easy. This Belgian emissary knows his adversary’s resourcefulness when he is in his element.
Even the captain of Rom’s guard, Kerchover (Casper Crump) is fully aware of the difficulty and is more on the side-lines instead of the front-lines. I hoped he would be more of a threat, but sadly he’s more of a supporting character. After seeing Crump in DC’s Legends of Tomorrow as Vandal Savage, I hoped he would find meatier roles to play. I think he has the looks to bring some of that nasty charm Roger Delgado brought as The Master in Doctor Who. As for playing him, there was a lot more substance to the first incarnation and sophistication in the second. To peg him as a fifth regeneration is a potential proper return to form since I have seen what this actor can do when playing ruthless roles. But, I digress….
This movie does not have the same action-paced pizazz I recall from past products and while the narrative does succeed at making the legend larger than life, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi which was not there to make this film stand out. I wanted a product that did not have to recount his origins. By now, everyone who cares knows the story. I prefer to see him dealing with threats within the jungle instead of from out of. The old slavery subplot felt unneeded.
If only Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar can be worked into a standalone tale, I would go ape in delight.
3 Stars out of 5