Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan review

There's probably some unique challenges involved in writing a movie based on source material as old as Tarzan. Times change after all, and in trying to adapt the story to appeal to modern sensibilities you might lose something essential to the original piece. I don't know if that's what happened here, but I did not find this movie to be very enjoyable.

The plot was not bad, but the movie was very slow to get started: it took a while for anything to really happen. The first half was heavy with flashbacks filling us in on Tarzan's history, but I found these to have little impact, perhaps due to their short fragmented nature. It never really managed to make me care about the characters, and overall I just wasn't drawn into it.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that Tarzan himself is just plain boring. He has almost no character or personality, he never comes across as more than just a dour set of muscles. Neither his expression nor his voice ever really changed no matter what the situation.

Jane was more expressive and had some scenes that fleshed out her character a little bit, but it wasn't really enough, and it was dramatically obvious right from the start that she was just going to get kidnapped and Tarzan would have to rescue her. Hell, we even saw it in the trailer; her whole character was undermined before we even set foot in the cinema. But what made it worse is that Tarzan told her not to come but she insisted: the film-makers want us to believe that it's her fault that she was kidnapped, if she had just quietly stayed at home like (what I assume they believe is) a "good wife" then Tarzan wouldn't have had to rescue her. What's up with that?

Now she did have, like, one single scene where she was arguably actually useful, but it was far too little. I mean, at one point she actually had to be rescued in a flashback; she really never did amount to anything more than just a damsel in distress. What makes it really sad - apart from how clichéd and generally insulting that kind of writing is - is that even by being kidnapped and needing rescuing, she really didn't contribute very much to the plot. Ugh, I'd better leave this topic to the spoiler section actually.

I loved Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds, and I felt that his character in this movie borrowed heavily from that performance. Unfortunately the character was never really allowed to be very menacing or impressive, and as a result it just didn't work; Leon Rohm just wasn't a very impressive villain in the end.

There were a number of scenes in this movie that I did enjoy, and every single one of them featured Samuel L.M.Fing Jackson. He was genuinely the best thing about this film; his character was entertaining, relatable, and had a little more depth than I had been expecting. In fact, I found his back-story, delivered in a two-minute monologue, more intriguing than all of Tarzan's flashbacks.

The action was nothing special, with some potentially decent scenes let down by the now-standard Hollywood quick-cut shaky cam. The VFX wasn't quite good enough to bring some of the ambitious scenes to life; generally it was OK but there were a few moments troublesome enough to bring me out of the movie - but to be fair, I might be a little bit more sensitive to this kind of thing than most people.

Overall I'm going to give it a 6/10. There isn't really anything bad about it, there's just nothing particularly good about it either.


I mentioned that Jane being kidnapped wasn't even important, and that's because several members of the village were also kidnapped, and Rohm just generally needed to be stopped, so Tarzan was going to chase him down either way. So yeah, not only was it a tired cliché, it was also ultimately superfluous.

The film had some minor sub-plots that were probably intended to add depth, but really didn't amount to very much. Initially Tarzan seems to hate Africa, probably because of how much he suffered and how much family he lost there; I believe at one point he called it a "wretched place". But when he goes back... he gets repeatedly beaten up, his old friend gets killed, and his wife gets kidnapped and they both almost die. After this, he... stays there? What part of all that made him hate Africa any less?

Also, there's some brief hints that they want to have a baby, but no explanation why they haven't. Then at the end they have one. I assume that's supposed to be a happy ending, but they really didn't give me any reason to care, them having a baby at the end just didn't carry any weight.

Tarzan sure did get his bee-hind handed to him a whole lot this movie. I mean, out of several fights that he got into, he only really won one of them. The bit at the end where he finally faces off against Leon Rohm was particularly disappointing.

Speaking of Leon Rohm, him apparently falling for Jane just undermined his character, it didn't strengthen hers. I don't really understand the rationale behind it, other than perhaps to try to crib the scene from Inglorious where Hans Landa is having dessert with Shosanna Dreyfus.

By the way, near the end of the movie we finally hear Tarzan's roar, but I don't recall ever seeing him making it? Slightly strange that they didn't show him actually producing it, but I guess that would have required Tarzan to actually display energy or emotion, which they didn't seem to want for some reason.

The movie keeps going on about how big a deal Tarzan is; he's "Africa's favourite son", villages sing songs of his legend. And what legend is that exactly? All we see in the flashbacks is a wild boy lead a group of apes to hunt down and murder some typical tribesmen, and then get beaten up by another ape and need to be rescued by some white people. What part of that made him a famous legend that eveyone loves?

One issue I had was that I found the film's portrayal of animals to be somewhat inconsistent. The apes (which it claimed were not gorillas but something else?) were vicious bloodthirsty beasts. Hippos sped towards distant humans in water like they were planning to eat them, while lions nuzzle people affectionately (they seemed to have far more affection for Tarzan than the apes that were his family) and herds of elephants stop their nocturnal migrations (is this a real thing? Nocturnal elephants?) to have extended telepathic conversations (sort of) with strange humans. He was able to communicate well enough with apes and lions to get them to herd oxen, but not enough to say to his brother "Hey bro, don't mind us, just passing through". I dunno, I wish the film had been a bit more straight about saying something like "most herbivores won't go out of their way to attack you, but they will protect their territory", rather than "Not-gorilla apes will kill you, hippos will kill you, elephants are cool though" or whatever.

Also, whatever those apes were supposed to be, I had no sympathy for them. I'm surprised that the film seemed to expect us to at times. They were brutal and violent creatures that killed humans on sight, completely unlike my understanding of actual gorillas. By the way, why the hell was Jane wandering alone two steps away from their territory at one point?

I really liked the scene where Doctor Williams is sewing up Tarzan's wound using ants. That was pretty cool. Also, that man knew his guns!

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