The Legend of Tarzan

Year: 2016
Production Co: Dark Horse Entertainment
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: David Yates
Writer: Adam Cozad/Craig Brewer/Edgar Rice Burroughs
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L Jackson, Djimon Hounsou

This film came out among a season of northern summer blockbusters that have all been staggering in their mediocrity. Even beloved franchise names we've been waiting decades to see new iterations of like Independence Day: Resurgence and Ghostbusters have been met with resounding cries of 'meh'.

It's not screenwriter Adam Cozad or Craig Brewer's fault, they at least tried to do something original with the Tarzan mythology. It's just that the whole thing is so bland, from the cardboard cutout leading man on down.

It's years since Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) and Jane (Margot Robbie, who'll be hoping Suicide Squad cleanses any memory of this bomb from the movie-going consciousness) lived in Africa and cemented the legend they're known for. They're now nobles living in England and have left the past behind.

But stories are swirling from the homeland about slavery in the mining industry, all with the collusion of the stuffy, corrupt European governments. Of course it's left to an American with all the attendant American swagger and righteousness to bring justice to the Belgian royal cover-up while the bewhiskered, fusty old goats of the British parliament dither and stall.

It comes in the shape of Williams (Samuel L Jackson, the one from The Spirit and Jumper, not the one from The Hateful Eight or Pulp Fiction), who convinces Tarzan to travel with him to The Congo to see what's going on.

Jane insists on coming and they're no sooner on their way when she's kidnapped by Christoph Waltz in full moustache-twirling villain mode, trying to use her as bait to draw Tarzan off the scent... or maybe to deliver him to the nasty tribe who want to kill everyone... or something. Only a few weeks after seeing it I've completely forgotten.

He reconnects with all his CGI animal friends (but after the charms of The Jungle Book there's not much that's new and exciting in that), and swings in to save the day. And yes, there is enough vine swinging to suggest the studio wanted to keep it true to the hoary old tropes even while they realised how ridiculous some of them are.

Speaking of which, far less forgivable is the signature Tarzan battle cry, which is frankly hilarious when it rings out, no matter how much it seems they tried to engineer it so it didn't sound like Johnny Weissmuller in a loincloth.

The characters are all as dull as dishwater, especially the personality-bypassed human abdominal muscle Skarsgård, who does more with his pectoral muscles than his face ever manages throughout. The others are at least caricatures with a little bit of colour – the endless Princess Leia rehash for Robbie, Dastardly Dan for Waltz and every bad movie he's ever made for Jackson.

There are some thrills, but none of them are very surprising or original. The only real mystery is why movie studios keep dusting off these museum pieces every generation or so when they're well past their prime and we've surely seen every possible iteration of them.

In resurrecting the story of a white man who tells black Africans how to live peacefully with nature and becomes their folk hero, we might as well do the same with Uncle Remus and all his slavery folk music.

At this point only one person is glad they made it, and that's Djimon Hounsou, who can only make a living because of crap 'generic African' roles like he has here.

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