Monday, July 4, 2016

Legend of Tarzan Review

Legend of Tarzan Review
Sometimes, I hate it when critics are allowed to see movies before they open and I am even equally unimpressed when they can publish their reviews days, sometimes weeks in advance of the film getting released. Sometimes, that creates expectations for a film or it can completely shatter them. In the days before "Batman vs. Superman," I was almost afraid to get on the internet, and I stayed away from everything "Dawn of Justice" related in the weeks before the release. I feel like early reviews have ruined a film experience for me, so I have decided to stay away from early reviews and that God forsaken tomato meter before seeing a movie. I don't want my thoughts corrupted or disputed in any way before seeing a movie. Even if I end up agreeing with critics or not, I can be proud of what I tell people and what I write here, knowing its my genuine thoughts you are reading.

So, I am glad that I didn't read anything early for "Legend of Tarzan" because I had a really good time with the movie. In fact, the more I have thought about it since seeing it yesterday, the more I have liked it. When I got home from viewing it last night, I hopped on the computer and read reviews. Honestly, I don't get what people were expecting. I really don't understand the seething hatred. "Legend of Tarzan" is a crowd-pleasing, rousing blockbuster. It displays the cutting-edge performance of visual and special effects. It cast two good-looking and talented leads to bring Tarzan and Jane to life, and they both do an incredible job of making this movie count. Do I think "Legend of Tarzan" is a perfect movie? No, not at all. But its not nearly has horrible as critics are making it out to be and its certainly fits the bill of fun movie to see during a summer season.

"Legend of Tarzan" is by no means a Tarzan origin story. In fact, the movie takes place an untold amount of years after Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) and Jane (Margot Robbie) left the jungle, they have married and Tarzan now goes by John Clayton III and lives off of his family's riches. He has created a good life for him and his wife in the "civilized" world of London. I like this set-up. I didn't need the two-hour origin story for Tarzan. As another critic had pointed out in his review, Tarzan is very much like Batman. We get how Tarzan became the lord of the jungle. So it would be a waste of time to spend an entire movie on that. Tarzan's origin and how he met Jane are explained in some brief but effective flashbacks, which are all very well done.

What brings Tarzan back to the jungle is the British Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent) who invites Tarzan to visit the old jungles of Congo and see the developments that Belgium has created there. (The Congo has been divided up between Belgium and the UK). Tarzan is then urged by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) to go and he wants Tarzan to bring him along so Williams can see if any slavery is taking root in the country. Belgium is on the verge of bankruptcy, yet they can build railroads in the region and mine the country's diamonds? Something seems aloof with Williams and he wants to see what really is going on there. So Tarzan and Jane go back to Congo with Williams and eventually run into Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) Beglium's representative, who does indeed have sinister plans for Congo.

"Legend of Tarzan" is very much in the vein of Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds" or Matthew Vaughn's "X-Men: First Class" were fantasy blends in with reality. George Washington Williams was a real man who did write an open letter to Europe about the shady business going on in Congo. Leon Rom was also a real man, he was incredibly vile and awful human being. I liked that Waltz doesn't really play him as a mustache-twirling villain as we usually see in movies like these. He gives the character some real development, and makes sure we hate because of his character and not because the script requires us to. I think Samuel L. Jackson has some real depth as Williams, which I think comes together in a discussion Williams and Tarzan have latter in the movie. Williams discusses all the things he had to do as a Civil War soldier, and a mercenary afterwards. Its grounded work, and it actually means something when he finally says "I am no better than the Belgians." 

The visual effects, as I said, are remarkable. Not only are the animals realistic, but so is the mere image of Tarzan swinging from tree to tree. It all feels believable, its so good that I have a hard time not noticing when special effects are bad. (I am looking at you, "Independence Day: Resurgence") We can do so much with our special effects these days, so when somebody really does blow our minds with them. Its hard not to notice.

There are only a couple discrepancies that stop me from absolutely loving this movie. First of all, the ending is almost laughably anti-climatic. After all the setup of the villains, after all the effort Tarzan puts forth in order to save Jane from Rom's clutches, its all over much too quickly and without any sort of emotional pay-off. There is also a one-on-one altercation between Tarzan and Rom. I liked the idea, but how the scene plays itself out was a little to quirky and silly for my liking. Had the climax been a little more exciting, and little more thrilling and had made sure we felt the stakes, then I'd be a lot more satisfied than I already am.

But again, this is an awesome movie. In a world where studios are telling incomplete stories in order to make room for un-needed sequel set-up, "Legend of Tarzan" feels like a miracle. The film tells a complete story with a valid beginning, middle and end. The film doesn't wink in your face and nudge your shoulder in any way. It doesn't stop cold in its storytelling to set up a plot line that it doesn't plan to end. The entire story of "Legend of Tarzan" is told within the film itself. That may not sound like a big deal, but from what we've been seeing in blockbusters since March, it actually is a big deal. "Legend of Tarzan" is fun, its thrilling, its funny, its entertaining, and its often breathtaking to look at. What more could somebody want in a summer blockbuster?

FINAL GRADE: B+

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