The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

You know that bad feeling you get when you just know a movie won’t be good?

Well, around the time this film was announced, I thought it would be great. Then, as time went on, my opinion soured, and I felt a sense of disappointment. The marketing had me excited for this film, but I couldn’t shake the feeling.

This movie could have been great. David Yates, best known for his work on the Harry Potter films, can handle a variety of tones and themes. Stuart Craig, Mark Day, Tim Burke—there was a swarm of creatives involved with the Potter series, and that turned out magically. Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Alexander Skarsgard, John Hurt—who wasn’t actually in this movie…

The point is, there was a dream team assembled for this film, but the end result came short of greatness. It was like… it was like having the finest threads available, but weaving them into superstore fabric. It was entirely standard, and therefore wasted. It was certainly nice to look at, though.

Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) is sent to the Congo by the king of Belgium. He needs to acquire some rare diamonds to pay back his king’s investments, and the indigenous people will help him—if he brings them Tarzan. John “Tarzan” Clayton (Skarsgard) is now an aristocrat married to Jane (Robbie), and he is persuaded to go back down to Africa. Rom ends up capturing Jane instead, and the rest of the film is about Tarzan’s quest to get her back.

Really? When I pay to see Margot Robbie in a movie, I don’t expect her to be the damsel in distress. Where’s her agency? I’m not normally one to bring this up, though it’s always been a problem. It’s just that Jane does not seem the be the type that’s content to wait for a man to save her. Her, of all heroines… Christoph Waltz plays the same type of character again, in case you were wondering: the domineering authority. I’m tired of it.

All that being said, there were parts of this film I enjoyed. There’s a moment when Tarzan and Jane go back to the village where Jane’s father taught English. The tribal men and women embrace the visitors like they never left, and it’s beautiful. To think that we might belong in more than one place, have more than one home, that we might be welcomed wherever we’ve given our love.

I had a lot of hopes for this film, but I was let down. It could have been so good. While I appreciate its reverence to the (original) source material, and the exquisite production values, the film was just missing something. Something new. Wasn’t the point of Tarzan to show us something we’d never seen before?

2.5

The Legend of Tarzan is in theaters now.

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