THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (Warner Bros.)
Dir. David Yates, Script. Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer
Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou and Christoph Waltz
Plot: Belgian advisor Leon Rom (Waltz) seeks to capture Tarzan (Skarsgard) as makeweight to secure the diamonds of Opar.
The Legend Of Tarzan is the most pointless movie I’ve ever seen.
It’s not completely terrible – terrible and pointless mean very different things in my world – but my god did it feel pointless. If there is any reason, any reason at all, for The Legend Of Tarzan to have been conceived, financed, produced and released, then the person who manages to convince me there was valid reason for this film’s existence is a far better arguer of an opinion than I will ever be. While its insane $180m budget (which would have been even more bloated if not for deciding not to shoot a film 85% set in Africa…in Africa, instead deciding North London was a better option) does lead to dazzling CGI and photorealistic animals granted, this movie is, at it’s root, useless. It is not just a disservice to the performers involved, and the story of Tarzan in general, but also a disservice to the entirety of Africa, to common sense, and to the cinematic art which becomes less reputable with every single slice of completely ridiculous, insolent fucking codswallop like this.
If you haven’t gathered by now, I hated this movie passionately, to the point where I had to take a ten mile long step back and say, ‘James, it’s really just a movie…it’s not a horrible tragedy, lives haven’t been lost, it’s just a product that is produced and then consumed’. But at no point this year had a film’s end credits rolled and I was that annoyed. The Legend Of Tarzan provoked in me such a violent reaction I found myself numbed with anger. I was truly stunned by what I’d seen – it didn’t feel like a film at all, more like a compilation designed by an omnipotent arch-nemesis of mine, with the specific purpose of torturing me with every aspect of modern cinema that I loathe. I found myself staggered, almost left without a single word in me, that somebody could invest $180m in something so hopelessly inept. Within five minutes I was wishing for the end, and this desire only intensified with each scene. The Legend Of Tarzan takes, like all Warner Bros. blockbusters seem desperate to do at the moment, all of the grittiness and interspersed, interwoven flashbacks straight out of Nolan’s throat, but add none of his quality. Director David Yates, rather than take his opportunity by the scruff of the neck to become an auteur, decides to have a portmanteau of every bad directorial trope of the last decade, from the ludicrously cheesy Zack Snyder-trademarked slow-motion action, to the extreme close-ups or go home mentality of Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables. It’s full of camera ‘trickery’ and weird angles that are so completely dumb you wondered if his cinematographer was 9 and was using it as a tennis ball. There is a scene (which is effectively pointless) in which Tarzan must fight his gorilla brother for some random reason, and despite this fight being purely on the ground, Yates’s team shoot half of it UPSIDE-DOWN, for no other reason apparently than to confuse people enough to make them forget about the utter shit on the screen. Yates also shoots simple dialogue scenes entirely with the cameras spinning around the characters, succeeding in capturing the precise feeling of sitting in that cinema yesterday having to take in The Legend Of Tarzan – it’s like being in a washing machine, forever, and as repetitive as a washing machine also.
The entire thing is a colossal waste of time. Once you realize the plot of the movie essentially boils down to ‘Millions of black people are being enslaved, and so they must call upon a single white man to save them’, it’s impossible to sympathise with the historical revisionism at all. Yates promised, when searching through every corner of his mind to plaster together some kind of purpose for making this film, a ‘Tarzan for the 21st Century’ despite Tarzan’s very well known positioning in the 19th Century. But while Yates may have wanted a socially progressive revamp of the Tarzan mythos, screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer might has well have opened fire on the Suffragette movement. Along with the ridiculous shots of Tarzan and Jane visiting an African tribe and having it shot like a Unicef advert post-donation, with about a thousand nameless African people harmonically chanting about the arrival of the white man, there is Jane herself, the biggest waste of Margot Robbie there will ever possibly be. Robbie does everything her character allows her to functionally, but its how little she’s allowed to do plot-wise that is not only a criticism, its something I’m outright disgusted by. JANE DOES NOTHING. The only thing Jane does that is actually important and narrative-driving is her screaming for her husband to save her. Her main character trait at the start and the end is that she is Tarzan’s wife. Her narrative arc traverses that epic voyage between ‘Being Tarzan’s Wife’ and ‘Being Tarzan’s Wife’. Her character has no development, nothing to speak of at all, and its frankly stunning that a movie could still treat any main character with so little respect and with this little diligence, let alone a female character. Jane is the most underdeveloped character I’ve seen in movies for years – writing the last few sentences has actually been difficult, because I’m so full of total rage over how mistreated Jane is as a character.
The rest of the leads, being male, have a bit more to them as characters, but not too much more. Despite being able to recruit Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz (I assume through blood money and some incredible blackmail) in a desperate attempt by Yates to make us think about Django Unchained (even the Tarantino quick-zoom is mined by the shameless plagiarist Yates) in order to make us forget the movie that will be the week-old cumstain of this summer, those two prestige names almost serve to be an even more present reminder of the ineptitude and laziness inherent in every aspect of The Legend Of Tarzan. Jackson has obviously been brought in for name recognition and not because the character befits an actor of his undoubted talent – in fact, some of his lines actively evoke lines he said as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction. His character is an expert marksman, we are told, after he takes out a couple of baddies. We hear of his guilt over his actions in the Civil War and that ‘he’s no better than them Belgians’. But still he relies on Tarzan to get what he wants (namely to expose the Belgian-sponsored slavery) done, tagging along for the most part. Waltz reprises his role as Ernst Stavro Blofeld in The Legend Of Tarzan – Leon Rom is hopelessly generic, and the most insight we get into his character is a homophobic insult directed at him. Waltz needs very quickly to realize that nobody will give him awards for playing European-born villains again and again, and he’s trapping himself in those roles each time he does them. And then there’s Tarzan, as wooden as the trees he swings through, played by a set of abs possessed by Alexander Skarsgard, the True Blood actor who must have been instructed not to use his face to make any expression as everyone would be looking at said washboard stomach. Skarsgard decides, in a truly brave and stunning twist on action star formula, not to show a number of emotions, namely: caring, concerned, emotional, excited, feeling, interested and responsive. These are all the antonyms of the word ‘stoic’ I could find on the Internet, by the way. He’s just so bland that it’s impossible to have empathy for him. Sympathising with an incredibly wealthy land-owning man with special powers is possible: The Dark Knight trilogy, for example, what The Legend Of Tarzan was giving a blowjob to for its 109 horrific, inherently insipid minutes, managed it. The Legend Of Tarzan is better as an emotional anaesthetic.
On a technical level, I’ll admit that the film has a professional look to it, and the African deltas do look pretty remarkable, but with $180m to spend you’d honestly expect that. I’ll admit that the animal life is impressive also, but it doesn’t feel like it’s there to enhance the film as a narrative enterprise – it’s a great demonstration of how incredibly far technology has gone that we can code and generate these grand creatures in the magnificent detail that we can, but no more than a demonstration, no more than a gloat. There’s nothing to gloat about with this movie, or at least there shouldn’t be. I hate writing pieces that are this vitriolic, this rage-fuelled, and if you go to see this movie (which I’m not going to advise as that’s like sending lambs to the slaughter in my mind) your reaction to it probably won’t be as sharply violent as mine; it might even be the complete opposite. There’s enough stuff within The Legend Of Tarzan that spares it from a 0/4 – I can’t in good conscience bring myself to give it that just because of my own personal hatred of it, although that’s not changing. The plot might be generic, but it makes enough sense, I know that the filmmaker’s intentions with telling the story of the slavery many endured in the Congo at that time were noble ones, and Robbie, Jackson and Waltz do solid jobs. The technology that brought this story to life is undoubtedly impressive (although in regards to Tarzan swinging about, I honestly feel like the first Spider-Man did that better, and that’s the first Sam Raimi one, 14 years old now). But The Legend Of Tarzan is filled with everything that, if I ever got the chance to work in the movie business, I would go on a crusade to totally eradicate from cinema. The best metaphor I can think of are the manufactured human shells from ‘New Earth’, that Doctor Who episode in the future hospital with the cats-stroke-nurses-stroke-nuns. Like that flesh, The Legend Of Tarzan is manufactured, and induced and infected with every single known disease, constantly repeating itself. I desperately hope it’s not the future. I’m reminded of what David Tennant says when he realizes the extent of the ‘human farm’ when I look to a cinema, stretching out into the infinite, based on The Legend Of Tarzan: What’s the turnover, hmm? Thousand a day? Thousand the next? Thousand the next? How many thousands? For how many years? HOW MANY!?
BEST WATCHED: No bonus points for figuring out this one…
Skarsgard’s slate is currently empty, but the ensemble around him are some of Hollywood’s brightest, biggest and busiest: Samuel L. Jackson has a number of blockbusters in the works, from a role in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, to a part in Kong: Skull Island and returning as Agent Gibbons for xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage. Margot Robbie is set to become a bona fide superstar as Suicide Squad releases next month, and we finally get to see the full extent of her already iconic Harley Quinn. And Christoph Waltz already seems to be taking my advice to not constantly play European villains, with roles in Alexander Payne’s Downsizing and as an artist in Tulip Fever, in which he will star with Alicia Vikander and Cara Delevigne.