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Bamboo Chu-Sheng Chen,
Following his parents' death in Africa, John Clayton has been be raised by an ape, was known by the name Tarzan, but eventually left Africa and for his parents' home in England, along with the woman he fell in love with and married, Jane Porter. He is asked by Belgian King Leopold to go to Africa to see what he has done there to help the country. Initially, he refuses. But an American, George Washington Williams, wants him to accept so he can accompany him. He says that Leopold might be committing all sorts of atrocities to achieve his goal, like slavery. Clayton agrees and his wife insists that she accompany him because she misses Africa. When they arrive, a man named Rom, who works for Leopold, attacks their village and captures Tarzan and Jane. With Washington's help he escapes and sets out to rescue Jane by going across the jungle. Washington joins him despite being told that he might not make it.Written by
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IN BRIEF: A conventional approach to the Tarzan story which swings back and forth, without getting anywhere.
SYNOPSIS: The story of a little boy who goes ape.
JIM'S REVIEW: There have been many incarnations of the Tarzan legend, starting with Edgar Rice Burroughs original 1914 novel, Tarzan of the Apes. Our ape man has appeared in magazines, novels, comic books, movies, radio, cartoons, and television shows, all with varying degrees of success. Various actors have filled his loincloth, from the most famous actor in this role, Johnny Weissmuller in the 1940's, to Gordon Scott in the 1950's and Ron Ely taking hold of those vine reins in the mid 60's. His legend lives on once again in this modern day re-boot, The Legend of Tarzan, with Alexander Skarsgård as our muscle-toned hero.
The story adheres to its source and follows the basic outline of Burrough's novel. Told in flashbacks, we learn of an infant left in the jungle without parents and adopted by the great apes. Tarzan, now John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke, lived and thrives in his tropical environs until he was rescued and returned to England. Having difficulty readjusting to British society, he finds a comrade in the beautiful Jane Porter (a beguiling Margot Robbie). Upon his return to his childhood home in the Congo, Greystoke (a.k.a. Tarzan) discovers man's cruelty in the form of Belgian huntsman, Leon Rom (a typecast Christoph Waltz, playing, what else, but the villain). Whereupon Tarzan must takes sides to protect his adopted tribe of primates and protect his homeland.
Mr. Skarsgård plays Tarzan as an eloquent victim, more at home with his hairy friends than his human species. No "Me Tarzan, you Jane" monosyllabic banter here, and no loincloth either. This Tarzan mixes the physicality and brutishness of Stanley Kowalski with the sophistication and aplomb of a true noble gentleman, no small feat. If only the film matched his interpretation also.
The Legend of Tarzan is all too proper and seriously-minded which cuts down on the fun and adventure. David Yates directs his film solidly, keeping the action moving. Yet the production design by Stuart Craig seems too well-crafted for its own good, nothing out of place. It lacks authenticity in its detailing. This man-made jungle is just too pristine, so clean and sanitized just like its story. (When the vines look suspiciously like greenish rubber tubes and the cragged rocks like painted styrofoam, something is a bit off.) The special effects aren't that special either. Except for the primates, most of the animal kingdom is obviously the results of CGI, effective but slightly unreal and unsatisfying.
On the plus side, the fluid camera-work by Henry Braham has an acrobatic energy, especially as Tarzan travels from vine to vine, the best part of the cinematic experience. Mark Day's fine editing enhances the effect. The panoramic vistas help to give the film a sense of epic adventure, even if the adventures we witness never attain the grandeur of other epic film tales due to its script.
The narrative structure swings from its more interesting backstories (Tarzan's early life and upbringing, his adaptation to his aristocratic England, Jane's personal journey) which are only hinted, to the standard main story dealing with The Great White Hunter's poaching of ivory, diamonds, and the slave trade...granted all important subjects, but the treatment is painted in the most black and white terms with the widest of brushstrokes. That's the problem...there are no grey stokes in this Greystoke's version.
None of the characters are remotely real or believable, but the roles are well cast. There is a nice chemistry between the two leads, although their beauty reminds us too often of an Abercrombie and Fitch ad. Both are gorgeous human specimens who fortunately can act, even if the dialog that they are given by screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, is banal and stilted.
Given strong support is Samuel L. Jackson as the real life George Washington Williams, a political activist and do-gooder, but his character, as written, speaks in anachronistic modern day jargon. Still the actor brings much needed bravado and is amusing in his role. Djimon Hounsou as the avenging chief does some effective underplaying when Mr. Waltz again overplays the menace angle. However he does bring some interesting human quirks to the part. (Nice moment with the silverware arrangement, Christoph.)
All in all, the initial story line remains intriguing, the action sequences entertain, and Mr. S. makes an awesome impression, all swagger, six-pack, and sensitivity in a tight delightful manly package, although his fluent English language skills are never addressed.
This Tarzan has its flaws, but it does keep the legend intact, until the next chapter.
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