‘The Legend of Tarzan’ Review: This Again, Only Super-Serious This Time

'The Legend of Tarzan'

Movie Rating:


It’s hard to imagine that anyone out there was really begging for a new Tarzan movie. The jungle hero raised by apes lost his cultural cachet long ago, even with a Disney cartoon to help stretch out the legacy. However, blockbusters are dictated by brand names now and the name Tarzan resonates even with viewers who never read a word of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original stories.

The Tarzan story is also a big thumping adventure tale that’s never gotten the CGI blockbuster treatment. It makes sense that this movie was made, and also kind of makes sense that it’s rather dull and forgettable. We’ve been here before and it’s been a while since it had much entertainment value. Director David Yates (the man behind the final four ‘Harry Potter’ pictures) tries admirably to add dramatic weight and digital scale to the old hero, but it doesn’t add up to much. A somber take on Tarzan wasn’t exactly something the world desperately needed. This would-be franchise kickstarter will likely meet the same obscure fate as the last handful of attempts to reboot the pulp legend.

Thankfully, at least the film isn’t a Tarzan origin story even if that plotline is sprinkled throughout. We first meet Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) in England where he’s been living in luxury with Jane (Margot Robbie). It’s been a while since the guy lived in the jungle and he now enjoys the fruits of celebrity. But Tarzan has an itch to get back to where he came from (ditto audiences). He reluctantly accepts when he’s invited to the Congo to serve as a trade emissary for England. Unfortunately, all is not what it seems. Tarzan may set off on a quest (alongside Samuel L. Jackson as a fictionalized George Washington Williams) to help his country, but he gets caught up in a plot orchestrated by dastardly villain Captain Rom (Christoph Waltz). The baddie baits Tarzan with proof of a slave trade, but really just plans to kidnap and kill him for diamonds. Sadly for him, Rom forgot that this guy is an action hero more than happy to prove his chops by beating up evildoers in white suits.

While it’s nice that ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ attempts to put the hero into a new adventure with some heady political undertones that theoretically aim the movie at adults, the new narrative is a bit of a convoluted mess. It’s tough to keep track of exactly what screenwriters Adam Cozar and Craig Brewer are trying to say with their swell of political intrigue, especially in a movie sold on the promise of watching a shirtless Alexander Skarsgård (is there any other kind?) engage in rounds of smashy-smashy. More often than not, the needlessly overwrought narrative feels like a distraction, especially whenever it dips into origin tale flashbacks that were likely tagged on by a desperate studio. (That footage has oddly been the center of the ad campaign even though it doesn’t make up much of the movie.) It also doesn’t help that Skarsgård isn’t a particularly charismatic lead. He’s certainly a physical specimen who can pull off all the action scenes against CGI animals and disposable extras with ease, but his performance is mostly a series of scowls with the occasional scream. Even though seemingly every character on screen is in awe of Tarzan, viewers likely won’t be quite so enthusiastic.

Still, there are some highlights around the edges. Christoph Waltz is always a watchable presence, even as an underwritten moustache-twirling villain. The same can be said for Margot Robbie and Samuel Jackson, who have such grace and personality as performers that they elevate their forgettable characters. With a handful of ‘Harry Potter’ movies already under his belt, David Yates knows how to stage a massive effects and action sequence, and throws some good ones in here. The trouble is that the filmmaker is also determined to create dreary and dark blockbusters. That worked for the backend ‘Potter’ pictures that needed such a tone, but frequently sucks the life out of the old-timey adventure inherent in Tarzan.

The desperate need to treat this pulp material seriously and fill it with a Nolan-esque sense of political purpose feels forced and unnecessary. Viewers are stuck with a dreary two-hour adventure that never quite delivers the thoughtful subtext it desperately promises. ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ is a big and expensive movie made with vast resources that aren’t wasted on the big screen. But it just isn’t much fun, nor does it have a dramatic backbone strong enough to justify all the brooding. It’s forgettable without being breezily entertaining. I suppose there might be some who want their empty popcorn blockbusters to be drearily depressing for seemingly no reason. Those folks now have a Tarzan movie to call their own. For everyone else, it’s just an expensive two-hour reminder that they don’t particularly care about Tarzan, and that doesn’t exactly feel like the best use of Warner Bros.’ considerable resources.


  1. Chris B

    Yeeeeaaahhh I’ve never given a shit about Tarzan and your review let’s me rest easy knowing I can safely continue not giving a shit for the foreseeable future.

  2. Shannon Nutt

    Is it true that ZERO animals were used in the filming of this? They’re all CGI’d? That gives me no desire to sit through this movie. The animals in the trailers look like cartoons.

  3. Csm101

    I still love Greystoke with Christopher Lambert. I’ve always wanted to see the raunchy one with Miles O’Keefe and Bo Derek but still haven’t seen it. This looks good for a blind buy, but not intriguing enough to get me to see it at the theater.

    • Deaditelord

      I saw Tarzan, the Ape Man when I was a teenager (late night on skinamax) and the only thing that stands out in memory is Bo Derek’s inability to keep her clothes on. Not necessarily a bad thing, but problematic when considering that the rest of the movie is sooo incredibly boring.

      • Csm101

        Nonetheless, I still really want to see it. That one and Battlefield Earth are in my new and revised movie bucket list. Aim for the stars when setting goals, I say! 😀

        • Deaditelord

          LOL. I wish you good luck on your cinematic bucket list journey A quick glance at Amazon shows that both of these “gems” are available to stream.

          • Deaditelord

            Well Tarzan is available to stream anyway. I just assumed Battlefield Earth would be there too, but shockingly it’s not.

        • Chris B

          Speaking of bad movies that are amazingly entertaining, I recently saw Sylvester Stallone in “Cobra” for the very first time and loved it. What a cheesy relic from the 1980’s….

          • Csm101

            Cobra is 80’s action machismo at its finest! The opening grocery store sequence is the epitome of too cool for school action leads. Stone Cold totally ripped that sequence off from Cobra! The evil cult with the ritualistic battle axe clanging in front of the fire is pretty Silly goodness as well. 🙂

        • Charles M

          That Tarzan movie is in no way fun bad like Battlefield Earth. Tarzan is just boring boring. Like watching paint dry.

  4. Deaditelord

    I have never seen Cobra, but have heard from others that it is cheesy fun. I’ll add that to my movie bucket list along with the Puppet Master films.

    • Bolo

      Yeah, ‘Cobra’ is Stallone attempting to make his own Dirty Harry character. But since it’s Stallone he goes way over the top (reference intended) and pits his Dirty Harry guy against a cult that seem like they’re out of a Mad Max movie.

      Stallone was originally recruited to helm ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ (he was suppose to star and write and possibly direct) but they decided his vision was too expensive and decided to go with more of a comedy vibe and so they reworked the film with Eddie Murphy. Stallone ended up dumping a lot of his ideas for ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ into ‘Cobra’. Sadly, his idea of having himself in a sports car in a game of chicken against a train has never made it on screen.

  5. Thulsadoom

    I love the original Tarzan books (especially the first few). I’d love to see a proper Tarzan adaptation, but unfortunately nobody has every really done one that follows the books and the character as portrayed in them. Every film version has taken the central premise and then tried to do its own spin on it, and ended up falling flat by either being too comedic, too serious, or outright different and being Tarzan in name only.

    There’s room for a new Tarzan movie, I think, in the same way that one day there will be room for a new John Carter movie, but only if they follow the spirit, ideas and themes of the books they’re based on.

    • Csm101

      My brother had a whole set of Tarzan paperbacks with the Boris Vallejo covers (he may still have them) I think those were the first non picture books I remember him locking himself in the room and reading and his introduction to John Carter and Conan novels. He would probably say the same thing you said. My dad was big on Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan. I’m kind of getting a craving to borrow them as I’ve never read any of them. What actor would you like to see portray Tarzan?

  6. Charles M

    “Director David Yates (the man behind the final four ‘Harry Potter’ pictures)…” The four terrible and boring ones? I shall avoid this movie then.

  7. Yuna

    Such a shame this movie is going to bomb. After True Blood, Alexander Skarsgård deserves a good career. Goodness knows he got to stretch his acting chops (and tolerance for fake blood) on that show, cheesy though it was. Here’s hoping he gets better offers in the future.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *