The Jungle Muck – ★½
A trip to the Congo at the tail-end of the 19th century awaits as Alexander Skarsgård plays the famous vine-swinger in David Yates The Legend of Tarzan, alongside Margot Robbie as the proto damsel-in-distress Jane, Samuel L. Jackson as Tarzan’s buddy George Washington Williams, and Christophe Waltz as Leon Rom, the man tasked with capturing him to give to Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou).
There have been dozens of big screen representations of the Tarzan character over the last 100 years and yet there doesn’t feel any fatigue in approaching a new film, because all those previous adaptations are from a very different era. Sadly then, one of the biggest missteps with Yates’ The Legend of Tarzan is the belief that everyone is overly familiar with that legend and is looking for something new. While we’re all jaded by the idea of reboots, a big-budget, all-star live-action story like this deserved the full treatment, rather than this approach which isn’t 100 miles away from the idea of Bryan Singer’s “reboot sequel” Superman Returns which feels kind of like a sequel to a film that you’ve never seen.
The success, both critically and commercially, of Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book earlier this year shows that people will embrace a classic story like this, putting aside any reference points or shadowy cultural and racism questions in the name of a classic story. The film here is respectful toward Africa of 125 years ago, but the horror of slavery and the brutal Belgian colonisation of the Congo is slightly glossed over in order to get that 12A rating.
Bear with me, but George of the Jungle is a also reference point that’s impossible to ignore. It’s 19 years since Brendan Frasier brought that to the big screen, and you just wish that Skarsgård could have gone more for that approach than the brooding and joyless version that we get here. His chemistry with Margot Robbie is based mainly on her being infatuated with him, and she ends up spending about a third of the movie handcuffed to railings.
It’s close to 88 minutes in to the film before we get to see the fully unleashed version of Tarzan flying through the jungle which feels like saying we don’t see get any web-slinging in a Spider-man film for an hour and a half. The Legend of Tarzan feels so insecure toward its cinematic origins that we don’t even get a proper, unashamed and full-bodied version of that iconic, trademark yoddling yell.
The 3D is unnecessary and brings nothing to the film – not helped by the horribly dim projection of Dublin’s Savoy Cinema – and the lush African landscapes are likely to be as appreciated in two dimensions.
With a little more sense of fun and adventure the film could have been a joy, but the human characters all bog it down. More focus on the animals – à la Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and The Jungle Book – and it would be worth recommending. As it stands, it’s best to swing past this one.
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