The Legend of Tarzan (2016) – Film Review

Director David Yates was busy in 2016 trying to breathe new life into well-known franchises. He directed both Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and The Legend of Tarzan. Both films came out in 2016 and tried to breathe new life into their film franchises. One was fairly successful (until the sequels came out), but the other film a lot less so. Here’s a hint: the more successful film does not contain the big scream that this character is so well known for.

As you might have guessed — unless you think Newt Scamander is good at screaming — The Legend of Tarzan became a lot less successful than Yates’ other directed film from 2016. However, The Legend of Tarzan is, in my opinion, the more underrated film. The film may be far from an excellent film, but I do think the film is good. This is an entertaining film that can be appreciated mainly for the fact that it lets the legend of Tarzan’s stories stay alive.

The stories surrounding Tarzan are almost as old as the movies made about him. Tarzan is one of the best-known movie characters and a precursor to the modern cinematic action hero and superhero. The movie character is somewhat dated, but Yates makes an attempt to modernize the story somewhat. The director does this by capitalizing on themes that other films surrounding Tarzan discuss less — such as the dangers of colonialism and the terrible history of slavery.

Yates may not succeed one hundred percent in portraying these topics equally well. But the director does manage to portray the topics well enough (at least solidly). Furthermore, the film offers plenty of action moments in which we see Tarzan and Jane, with the help of animals, defeating bad guys.

About The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

The Legend of Tarzan is a 2016 adventure drama film. The film is directed by David Yates, who is known for directing several films in The Wizarding World franchise. For example, Yates not only directed Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but also Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of GrindelwaldFantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore and the last four Harry Potter films. The Legend of Tarzan is based on the character Tarzan, who was conceived by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The film’s screenplay and story were written by Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad.

The score was composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams. The cast of The Legend of Tarzan includes Alexander SkarsgårdSamuel L. JacksonMargot RobbieDjimon HounsouJim Broadbent and Christoph Waltz, among others. The film grossed over 356 million U.S. dollars against a budget of 180 million U.S. dollars. The film received mixed reviews from film critics. The story of The Legend of Tarzan follows John Clayton, also known as Tarzan. Today, he lives in London. Tarzan is persuaded by George Washington Williams to return to Africa to investigate allegations of slavery.

Watch the official teaser trailer for The Legend of Tarzan (2016) on YouTube.

About SebKijk

SebKijk is a Dutch-language website on which freelance film journalist and reviewer Sebastiaan Khouw (Hey, that’s me!) shares his written articles and reviews. The (news) articles, viewing tips and reviews focus mainly on films and series. However, on an irregular basis I also write about other topics such as books, comics, games, art, and culture. Because of the increasing international (and English-speaking) visitors to my website, I created a category on my website where I post English-language articles and reviews. The English-language articles and reviews are less of a priority. The focus will remain on writing Dutch language articles and reviews, but I will also post English language articles and reviews irregularly.

Nostalgic fun

The Legend of Tarzan is a movie that I genuinely enjoyed. The fact that I grew up with the stories of Tarzan will have been a big part of the reason for this. My father regularly told me as a small child about how, at my age, he loved going to the cinema to watch a black-and-white Tarzan movie. My little brother and I, like my father in his childhood, were incredibly interested in the adventures of this jungle hero. So my father taped videotapes — yes, back when they were widely used — full of serial episodes of Disney’s The Legend of Tarzan. And of course, my little brother and I also had the videotape of the movie at home.

Later that videotape was joined by the DVD of the direct-to-video prequel Tarzan 2. Because I grew up as a Tarzan fan and enthusiast, I was always more likely to enjoy Yates’ The Legend of Tarzan than others. Is this a bad thing? No, of course not. Especially not, since I also recognize that the film has actual flaws and obvious criticisms. I said it once, and I will say it again: you can enjoy a movie and acknowledge its faults at the same time!

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
Source: fanart.tv, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Jerry Weintraub Productions, Riche-Ludwig Productions, Beagle Pug Films, Dark Horse Entertainment, Prime Focus, Warner Bros., Warner Bros. Nederland, HBO Max Nederland en Village Roadshow Films North America.

The Big 5

But why do I like this movie? Firstly, The Legend of Tarzan contains two strong lead actors. Both Alexander Skarsgård and Margot Robbie are top-notch in this film. Skarsgård not only contains a well-trained body to look like Tarzan, but he also delivers convincing acting. The actor manages to experiment with voice pitches and intonations to create a more believable image of a human being who can really communicate with animals. Where the actor is especially convincing is in how he can use his body movements to communicate with wild animals.

For example, Skarsgård knows the ways to approach, greet and hug both lions and gorillas. The actor also knows how to make decoy calls to other animal species and can stretch out the construction of his hands in this film. The film uses the logic that his character learned this by walking on both hands and feet. This is a nice touch, which also looks reasonably believable through the use of Skarsgård’s acting and CGI. Robbie also remains a top actress, and she manages to add some more spice to Jane’s character. Jane is no longer just a damsel in distress.

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
Source: fanart.tv, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Jerry Weintraub Productions, Riche-Ludwig Productions, Beagle Pug Films, Dark Horse Entertainment, Prime Focus, Warner Bros., Warner Bros. Nederland, HBO Max Nederland en Village Roadshow Films North America.

She is also a woman who knows how to stand up for herself, and she has a fighter’s heart. In addition, Jane manages to plan calculating escape attempts while being captured or held at gunpoint. Samuel L. Jackson also has a great role in this film. The actor proves once again that you can never really go wrong with him in a movie — no matter how big or small his role is. Samuel L. Jackson serves mainly for the comedic aspects of the story. His character is new to (this side of) the jungle. As a result, the actor’s reactions to the various situations and landscapes are most recognizable and genuine.

Djimon Hounsou is an actor I personally always hope to see more of in a film. Unfortunately, The Legend of Tarzan also does not make enough use of Hounsou’s acting talents. The actor manages to be one hundred percent convincing in the short time we get to see him, but unfortunately he is only featured in the story for a short time. In addition, his character comes across as underdeveloped and too simplistic in his motivations. Christoph Waltz plays the film’s villain, but he actually acts as a lesser version of the character Hans Landa from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
Source: fanart.tv, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Jerry Weintraub Productions, Riche-Ludwig Productions, Beagle Pug Films, Dark Horse Entertainment, Prime Focus, Warner Bros., Warner Bros. Nederland, HBO Max Nederland en Village Roadshow Films North America.

The two biggest downsides

The Legend of Tarzan also features beautiful film music by composer Rupert Gregson-Williams. Although the film score itself is less iconic, Gregson-Williams’ film music does sound timeless and ancient — just as the jungle of Africa is. Another aspect I could appreciate is the scope of the film’s story. The story of The Legend of Tarzan takes you on a movie adventure full of epic action scenes. In terms of action, the film’s finale in particular cannot be called anything else but epic.

Nevertheless, the film’s story also contains its flaws. It can certainly be appreciated that the filmmakers also dare to tell the story of colonialism and slavery past. However, the length of the film is not long enough, which did not allow Yates and the screenwriters to deepen and highlight these important topics enough. In addition, Yates and the screenwriters do not seem to capitalize enough on the emotional moments of the story. They go through these too quickly, making the pace come across uneven and rushed.

Another huge downside is the film’s cinematography. Cinematographer Henry Braham has used weird lighting and green coloring in his camerawork. This makes the African jungle from the flashbacks in particular look tremendously fake. Braham also has a rather simple and boring composition in his camerawork, making his cinematography not challenging or inviting enough.

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
Source: fanart.tv, Village Roadshow Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Jerry Weintraub Productions, Riche-Ludwig Productions, Beagle Pug Films, Dark Horse Entertainment, Prime Focus, Warner Bros., Warner Bros. Nederland, HBO Max Nederland en Village Roadshow Films North America.

Conclusion

So the story and the cinematography are the two biggest downsides. The fact that I didn’t go into them as much detail as the positive aspects doesn’t take away from the fact that these are really two major flaws. Had the crew paid more attention to these, The Legend of Tarzan might have been better received by other critics. Still, for the most part, I was able to enjoy this film. I can say that I genuinely like the acting of Alexander SkarsgårdMargot RobbieSamuel L. Jackson and Djimon Hounsou. Sadly, We just don’t get to see enough of Hounsou.

In addition, Christoph Waltz certainly does not act badly. He remains a good actor, but in The Legend of Tarzan he looks like a simpler and less intimidating version of Hans Landa from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. The film score by composer Rupert Gregson-Williams remains beautiful and timeless. The film contains more than enough action, with the finale clearly being the highlight. In addition, I appreciate that director David Yates and the screenwriters dare to dwell on the horrific slavery past and the dangers of colonialism. The Legend of Tarzan will not be a fun or suitable film for everyone, but for me, it certainly was.

Sebastiaan Khouw

Sebastiaan Khouw is het brein achter SebKijk. Als professioneel recensent en filmjournalist bespreekt hij verschillende vormen van entertainment, kunst en cultuur.

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