Me Critic, you Dumb.
Well I’ll be consistent in writing for once…this review marks my 50th review here on The After Lobby. Bust out the champagne and spread the confetti, thank you to everyone who has been following me on this journey so far. Special thanks to my girlfriend, Heather (aka Dr. Spectra) for inspiring me to finally open this website and for motivating me to keep writing. Also, want to shout out Korey Coleman, Martin Thomas, and Korey Goodwin over at Double Toasted, for being some of the best critics I know and getting excited about my passion for film. If you like to talk about movies, this is a great forum with an equally bizarre audience. And of course, a big thank you to all who have been reading my reviews of the fifty movies I’ve seen this year…oh God. I’ve seen fifty freaking movies in 2016 and we’re barely halfway through this crazy year. Welp, let me ring in the celebration with a film that’s truly spectacular…in a certain fashion.
Ordinarily, I think simply calling a movie “dumb” doesn’t add much to a conversation about the film or critique in general. But to use the word “dumb” to describe a movie, you need to do something drastic like tearing it apart to demonstrate why the film completely screws up ant rational thought to deserve the insult of “dumb.” So join me, friends, to understand how freaking dumb a movie about a guy who talks to apes can get.
So, housecleaning matter first: this isn’t a direct adaptation of any of Edgar Rice Boroughs’ novels on the character of Tarzan, the Englishman who was raised by apes in the African Congo to grow up as the “King of the Jungle.” For this movie, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) has left his jungle days behind and has settled down in England with his wife, Jane (played by Margot Robbie), as Lord Greystoke. However, George Washington Williams (a real life American Civil War hero played by Samuel L. Jackson) recruits Tarzan to enter the Congo with him to investigate how the Belgian King has developed the colony despite being bankrupt. Williams suspects slaves are being used, and having dedicated his life to eradicating the practice, Jackson’s character needs a celebrity to confirm the news.
However, it seems Williams was being manipulated all along by Christoph Waltz’s León Rom (another historical figure who was apparently a bigger bastard in real life) who wants to trade Tarzan to Chief Mbonga (Djimon Honsou) in exchange for a chest full of diamonds Rom can use to pay for mercenaries that’ll help the Belgian King secure the Congo. Oh and Mbonga is willing to do all of this because Tarzan killed his son years ago.
Now that I typed up the plot summary to this movie, I realize just how needlessly obtuse this film really is and it didn’t have to be this way. I mean it’s freaking Tarzan. Disney managed to tell a very simple story with even less time than this live action film had (only jamming it with a bunch of Phil Collins songs) and they didn’t need all these various characters plotting against one another. Because at the end of the day, you’re dealing with one of the first modern superheroes.
That’s not a jab at all to Edgar Rice Boroughs who also created John Carter of Mars, a character who had superhuman strength and speed on the Red Planet and served as an inspiration to Superman. Tarzan similarly is a guy who talks to jungle animals with ape-like strength while going on mystical adventures and shunning the hypocrisy of English society. Base line: Tarzan is a fun concept to explore, even despite the…uncomfortable baggage that comes with Boroughs’ writing when approaching them with a modern lens.
Look, art in general is born from the culture and perceptions of the time they take place. It’s why people these days identify anti-Semitic shit in Lovecraft’s literature, even though the audience just wants to be thrown into a world where all sanity has been lost to horrifying abominations. Similarly for Tarzan, you get a white, English nobleman who was simply dropped in the jungle as a baby and somehow still takes the whole place over despite African natives living in his vicinity. The writings have an air of European imperialism where blue-blooded men could simply tame the “savagery” of the land that was common for the time, but looks arrogant in our modern life. The Disney adaptation side stepped that whole business by focusing on the fact that Tarzan wants to defend the jungle from wealthy men trying to exploit his natural home, but this new movie instead chooses to basically make an apology for the whole imperialistic message of the source material by having Tarzan directly confront the notion of slavery in the Congo.
It’s an odd choice to make, given the fact that most people wouldn’t even have freaking noticed any of the imperialistic shit if this movie didn’t keep bringing it up with the whole plot being about the Belgian King reinstating the slave trade. Oh and having Samuel L. Jackson sleep walk a performance to deliver some lines about doing some bad shit during the Civil War and seeking redemption for his past sins that is introduced and goes nowhere fast.
Actually, that’s a common theme throughout the film: characterizations that are quickly shown and dropped within a few moments of each other. For instance, Jane gets captured by Rom (despite swearing she totally isn’t a damsel in distress…even though she’s a damsel in distress during the entire run time) and Jane decides to diss her captor by implying he got molested by his priest at a young age. I know, it was a total “WTF” when I heard it too. But even Honsu’s Chief Mbonga ends up forgetting his whole blood feud with Tarzan later on, even though he clearly has a reason to be cross with the guy, because the plot has to keep moving forward.
Once again, we have a film that employs the “and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened…” school of writing that isn’t interesting in the least. You move from one scene to the next, not knowing how you got there or knowing where the hell you’re going as characters deliver exposition that sounds so painfully contrived, you can’t even believe or sympathize with any of them. Despite my criticisms of the new Ghostbusters, I at least can say the plot was simple and sensible with easily understood character motivations. The ladies were not complex or deep, but they didn’t have to be. Similarly, Tarzan didn’t need to have a wealth of three-dimensional characters, but they could at least get Tarzan to be likable or interesting.
But apparently, I must be asking too much of Warner Brothers these days what with their desire to make bombastic blockbusters and flat, brooding main characters (hello worthless Batman v. Superman!). So Skarsgård is left with a Tarzan who has two emotions: fierce anger and morose contemplation. That’s fucking it. At least the dude cracked a smile once or twice, because the director remembered he’s making a summer movie and not an Academy Award-winning drama with a guy who talks to apes. Keep in mind, I’m not slagging Skarsgård off too much, because he’s fine with what he was given, it’s just that he was provided with something completely freaking useless. Though I imagine the script writer probably had notes everywhere to make sure Tarzan was beefy as all hell.
Which is great because at least some groups in the audience will get something out of this movie, because you’ll likely not get a whole lot of enjoyment from anywhere else. The other cast members are given even less than Skarsgård to work with, so they primarily twiddle their thumbs until they have to do a stunt which are the only bright spots in this whole dreary experience. And once again, Christoph Waltz is wasted as a villain like he was in The Three Musketeers, The Green Hornet, and the execrable Spectre, because God forbid anyone besides Quentin Tarantino know what the do with the guy. He does his usual creepy, kind snake thing while maintain a calm demeanor even as he dispatches his enemies with…a rosary. A rosary made of apparently durable satin that allows him to throttle any one he chooses.
Not gonna lie, using a rosary as a weapon would probably be interesting and perhaps metaphorical, but this movie does its best to make it as boring as possible. Honestly, all the stunts are heavily reliant on computer-generated effects that were missing a few renders to make everything look a bit more believable. It’s insane to me that Warcraft, for all of its glaring flaws, still managed to have computer-generated fantastical creatures that look way more life-like than the animals you find here. And when compared against Disney’s new Jungle Book which features beautiful looking animals, this new Tarzan movie looks like ass.
I normally don’t harp on effects too much, but when this film has failed to give me an interesting plot, relatable characters, smart writing, or literally anything to grab onto; I tend to start nitpicking at things that clearly took up the budget of the movie and still didn’t look good. It’s just demonstrable of Hollywood’s weird mandates with blowing money on things that seriously shouldn’t make up the bulk of production costs but end taking away resources that could have lead to the creation of a decent film.
I won’t call this an absolute train wreck, if only because this film is the very definition of mediocre. Bland characters against boring backdrops in an insipid plot. It doesn’t offend my senses, but I seriously can’t find anything at all to recommend here. Maybe to check out Skarsgård’s amazing physique, but you can just look up pictures of the dude on the Internet and save yourself two hours of your life.
I teetered on a RENTAL for this movie for the past week, because it wasn’t painful for me to sit through. But once I realized that Warner Brothers is planning on turning this into another sequel-mill franchise, I really couldn’t give two ounce of a shit where they take this new Tarzan. As far as I’m concerned, this dumb series can end here and now before Disney inevitably makes a live-action remake of their 1999 classic. This is movie is…
SOME OL’ BULLSHIT