Thursday, January 12, 2017

Bored of the Apes

Certain kinds of summer blockbuster movies demand that you lower your expectations before watching them. I tried to do that with the recent The Legend of Tarzan, and still managed to be disappointed.

One creative decision the movie made correctly is to spare us an unnecessary origin story. For the two people unaware that Tarzan is a wild man raised in the jungle by apes, the movie injects a few short flashbacks. Otherwise, it's a new story that picks up after Tarzan, Lord Greystoke, has repatriated to England to live a normal life. But the King of Belgium has his eye on the diamonds of the Congo, and Tarzan decides to return there in the hopes of exposing a massive slave operation.

Pretty much nothing about this movie works. There's tons of plot, reasonable (if simple) character motivations, and several set piece action sequences. None of it is even slightly engaging, for a variety of reasons.

For one thing, a lot of the actors here seem to be slumming it. Christoph Waltz has built a career on conniving and charismatic villains, and here is tapped to play the despicable Captain Rom. But Rom is a cartoonish figure that tries to combine mastermind and henchman all in one silly package -- he's both Goldfinger and Oddjob, depending on the scene, and compelling as neither. Samuel L. Jackson is no stranger to pulpy movies, and seems to be intended here as comic relief. But the name of his character, George Washington Williams, is about as funny as he ever gets. Jim Broadbent for some reason plays the British Prime Minister, though I can see nothing in the role that should have enticed him to take it.

Then there's the problem of how unreal everything seems. Unconvincing CG is piled high in this film; environments look like paintings, animals seem disconnected from their surroundings, and nothing moves with the right sense of weight. In sharp contrast, the animals of Disney's The Jungle Book were shown speaking English, yet still seemed more realistic than anything here.

Even if you're just watching to ogle good-looking stars Alexander Skarsgård and/or Margot Robbie, you're likely to be disappointed. Skarsgård doesn't go "full Tarzan" until more than halfway through the film, Robbie is playing a no-verve version of Karen Allen's Marion from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the two together as a couple have zero chemistry.

The Legend of Tarzan is the sort of movie that makes you wish for dumb. "So bad it might be good" would be a vast improvement over this incredible tedium. I give the movie a D-.

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