As much as superhero origin stories are constantly being trashed, at least historically they have reason to be successful. A random sequel could be better, but it could also be a lot worse.
The Legend of Tarzan decides to skip the whole origin story route, and jump straight to a story arc where Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) is well-adjusted to his life at John Clayton III in England. I suppose the thought here is that everyone already knows the story of Tarzan, but there are a lot of flashbacks in the film that essentially give all of the plot points to Tarzan’s origin. So many, in fact, that it really draws attention to how lacking the primary storyline in this sequel.
The story here really centers around a colonialist named Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz… so you already know that he’s a villain). He needs to capture Tarzan in order to obtain diamonds to fund his army that will take over the whole of Congo. He invites Tarzan to Africa under false pretenses and then captures Jane (Margot Robbie). I suppose Tarzan grew up in the same part of Africa that Rom brought him to, because Tarzan recognizes quite a few African friends and animals. Or maybe… the movie doesn’t care about Africa outside of its exoticism and uses a unilateral view of the continent in order to move a terribly boring plot along. Anyway, Tarzan and the new friend (Samuel L. Jackson) he traveled with must catch up to Rom and save Jane, as well as free all of the people English soldiers enslaved.
An anti-colonialist focus from the movie may have seemed interesting about a century ago, but now it just seems a bit naïve and the bare minimum necessary to not be blatantly racist. At the end of the day, this is still a story about a white dude saving the entirety of Africa.
A lot of the arguments about The Legend of Tarzan being problematic might be a little much for some. They might say that this film isn’t about sending a good message, but rather having a good time. And the movie certainly sets itself up to be recognized as just another action film. The problem here is that the action scenes just aren’t all that great. Directed by David Yates (of Harry Potter fame), the action sequences seem too forced and too generic. Although a lot of work certainly went into the magnitude of these scenes, it doesn’t seem like a lot of work went into the blocking of these scenes.
Honestly, the best thing someone could say about The Legend of Tarzan is that it has a lot of great stars. Djimon Hounsou, John Hurt and Jim Broadbent join the aforementioned list, and it’s just a shame that the movie is such a waste of all of this talent. Skarsgård probably gives the most impressive performance, considering all of the physical movement and changes he goes through in the film, but despite all of his strength, he can’t carry the whole movie on his back. Everyone else does an okay job, but they seem to just be going through the motions.
Probably the most emblematic thing I could say about the film is that it wasn’t even shot in Africa. The CGI animals look fine and you wouldn’t be able to tell that this was the case unless you knew beforehand, but there is a very noticeable twinge of inauthenticity to the movie. From a screenplay that isn’t doing anything remotely interesting to the action scenes that fail to excite, The Legend of Tarzan just doesn’t feel like it holds any real stakes. It’s far from legendary. It’s really just mediocre.