The film opens with extreme wide shots displaying the magnificence of the Congolese jungle. We enter into the story with Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), an official sent by King Leopold II of Belgium to find and acquire rare diamonds from a certain part of the Congo at any cost. The world is interestingly steely blue and dusty gray, all the colors muted, as if masked by fog.
In fact, the cinematography was one of the most striking aspects of the movie. The African landscape and lush jungle began in muted, cold, crisp hues at the beginning of the film, then took on life and more vivid color once John and Jane entered and engaged with the landscape. This change in look and feel marks a distinct difference in the way the different characters interacted with their surroundings, symbolizing the joy and fullness of life that comes with respect for animals and the wild, and the harm and danger that come with the opposite. The camera was also often in interesting places, giving perspective from unique angles and with unique movement, and there was surprisingly deft use of soft focus. Altogether, the film was really good looking.
The main thing that seemed to be lacking: the story. The story, in a way, seemed, while not an afterthought, certainly not at the forefront to me. The film is absolutely immersive and pulls the viewer in with the wonder, deep rooted motivations, and majesty, despite the story being slightly convoluted. However, this choice to prioritize an overall feeling over story could possibly be reminiscent of the wild and wildlife: a lot is unsaid, but much more is felt.
The film does manage to honor the classic film and story: throughout the film, John has flashbacks to his childhood, which act as a retelling of that classic story, providing background on not only his character, but Jane's, as well. Yates also seems to try to enter some subtle commentary on the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church during the time: certain people identifying with a religion with core values rooted in love, peace, and kindness somehow found a way to enact some of the deepest cruelty in history. Rom, in brilliant characterization (and with a brilliant performance from Waltz, as per usual), always carries a rosary with a cross with him, using it to protect himself, but also enact physical harm on others. This acts as a personification of the hypocrisy of the time, and speaks even to contemporary hypocrisy: using a symbol of love to hate.
All and all, The Legend of Tarzan is an entertaining watch. It pulls you in, makes you feel, and honors the original classic while still attempting to push Tarzan into a contemporary and relevant space. It is holding back something, though: a more polarizing message, deeper characterization, more time in the landscape with the animals, a fearlessness maybe? Something… Essentially, the film is perfectly fine.
Hey, at least it’s not a total bust.