Competently directed, impressively cast, and quite handsome in scope and presentation, The Legend of Tarzan nonetheless fails to make much of an impression. Hollywood has been in love with Tarzan since Edgar Rice Burroughs created the character in 1912. This outing, from Director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and several other films in that franchise) was adapted by Adam Cozad (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow). The film begins with Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) all grown up, living as John Clayton III, Earl of Greystroke, alongside his wife, Jane Porter (Margot Robbie). King Leopold II of the Belgians has claimed the Congo Free State but is heavily in debt due to uncontrolled spending. His envoy, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), is sent to find the valuable diamonds of Opar, but is ambushed by tribal Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), who promises Rom the diamonds in exchange for Tarzan.
The early surprise of seeing Tarzan dapper and living in London is one of the film's few tricks. He is soon invited back to the Congo by the British Prime Minster (Jim Broadbent, in a wasted role) and tasked with observing the Belgian development in the area. He attempts to leave Jane in London, but she persists. The expedition is led by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), who tells Tarzan he suspects the Belgians are using the Congolese as slave labor. Once in the Congo, Tarzan and Jane meet old acquaintances in their village and learn how dire the situation is for the locals. Williams wants to take down King Leopold, and Mbonga still harbors hate for the death of his young son, which he blames on Tarzan. This is a very simplified version of the plot and its various conflicts. There is a lot going on here - too much, in fact - and The Legend of Tarzan struggles with political baggage that keeps it from becoming a sweeping adventure film.
There are some things that go right for the film. Skarsgard absolutely looks the part, and is a decent actor to boot. Robbie is just lovely and should be in everything, though her character is very thinly written here. Yates did an excellent job with the latter Harry Potter films, but his eye for visuals and pacing gets a bit lost here. The Legend of Tarzan wants so much to capture the magic of Burroughs' books, but it could have easily dropped some of the subplots to create a more focused, dramatically involving adventure. Since King Leopold is only spoken of, Rom becomes the chief villain, and he fights with Mbonga for screen time. While the crew investigates reports of slave transports in the Congo, Tarzan also has to grapple with the people and beasts he left behind in Africa. One such creature is his ape brother Akut, who challenges him to a fight. The Legend of Tarzan could have focused on Tarzan's return to the Congo and this personal drama instead of diverting every which way during these awkwardly staged showdowns.
The film is handsomely shot, with cinematography by Henry Braham. The film uses digital trickery more often than it should, though, and that further lessens its impact. Many scenes feel exactly like they were shot on a green-screen set. There are a couple of nifty, period-appropriate action sequences that thankfully do not go the way of another Warner Brothers throwback adventure film, Wild Wild West. The Legend of Tarzan is neither offensive nor a complete waste of your time, but it lacks the grit and dramatic heft to make it memorable. It ends up a nostalgic timewaster, and that is a shame.
I received the three-disc combo pack of The Legend of Tarzan, which includes the film on Blu-ray 3D and standard Blu-ray. The 2.40:1/1080p/MVC-encoded 3D presentation is nice, with strong fine-object detail and texture. Close-ups reveal abundant facial details, and wide shots are crisp and impressively deep. The golden hues and jungle greens are perfectly saturated, and black levels are reasonably deep. This is a post-converted presentation, but the 3D image offers surprisingly impressive depth and is quite immersive. Absent are ghosting and aliasing problems, and there are a number of sequences where subtle visual effects pop off of the screen. The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded 2D image is also strong and slightly brighter, with similarly excellent detail and a complete lack of digital hiccups.
The Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which I sampled in 7.1 Dolby TrueHD, is one of the most impressive mixes I have heard this calendar year. The track is wonderfully immersive and perfectly balanced, with exceptional clarity and range. The mix brings together dialogue, effects and score in a pleasing, cinematic presentation. Dialogue is crystal clear and appropriately balanced. Subtle, environmental effects like jungle noise and a chugging train are realistic and surround the viewer. Action sequences are quite bombastic, and gunfire ricochets across the sound field. The subwoofer is given an extensive workout, and the entire presentation replicates the theatrical experience perfectly. A number of 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs and subtitle options are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This 3D combo pack includes the Blu-ray 3D, the standard Blu-ray, a DVD copy and an UltraViolet HD digital copy. The discs are packed in a hinged Blu-ray case that is wrapped in a flat slipcover. There are no extras on the 3D disc. The 2D disc includes the following: Tarzan Reborn (15:10/HD) offers interviews with Yates and the cast, and discusses updating the character for modern times. Battles and Bare-Knuckle Brawls (15:05 total/HD) breaks down three major action sequences, while Tarzan and Jane's Unfailing Love (6:01/HD) concerns the legendary couple. Creating the Jungle (15:16/HD) looks at the film's effects; Gabon to the Big Screen (2:28/HD) is a short piece about Africa; and Stop Ivory (1:30/HD) is an anti-poaching PSA.
This update of the Tarzan character is inoffensive and reasonably entertaining, but the unfocused narrative robs it of emotional impact. The Legend of Tarzan stars Alexander Skarsgard, who looks the part, and Margot Robbie, and is directed by Harry Potter alum David Yates. The story is cluttered, and the film never becomes the sweeping adventure it should. Rent It.