Lord of the jungle is invulnerable and dull

The realistic portrayal of the animals gets the thumbs-up.
The realistic portrayal of the animals gets the thumbs-up.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES

REVIEW / ACTION-ADVENTURE

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (PG13)

104 minutes/Opens tomorrow/2.5/5 stars

The story: Lord Greystoke, better known as the mythical Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard), has left the African jungles to lead a gentrified life in England. One day, he and his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) are invited to return to Congo to serve as trade emissaries for the English parliament, unaware that they are pawns in an evil plot led by the cruel Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz).

Alexander Skarsgard cannot seem to let go of his famous vampire role in HBO television series True Blood (2008 to 2014) - his portrayal of Tarzan here looks and feels just as icy and undead.

The Swedish actor rarely displays any emotion throughout the film - not even when he is reunited with his old ape family after years of being apart, nor when his beloved wife Jane gets abducted.

This is not the typical Tarzan origin story that has been told numerous times in popular films such as Tarzan The Ape Man (1932) starring Johnny Weissmuller and Disney's cartoon Tarzan (1999). But Skarsgard's portrayal is so dull that even an entirely fresh story does little to salvage it.

The strapping hunk seems to come alive only when taking off his shirt to show off a well-sculpted body, which he does often - sometimes in slow, lingering takes - whenever he preps himself for a fight.

His apparent invulnerability does not help to humanise him. Unlike Leonardo DiCaprio's painful bear attack fate in The Revenant (2015), Tarzan is so strong that getting tackled by some massive apes, or getting run over by a herd of water buffaloes, only leaves him with a thin and sexy scar on the right shoulder.

Next to such a ridiculous and over-the-top portrayal of Tarzan, Robbie's much more earnest performance as the feisty Jane makes it feel like she is in a different film. Her tension-filled scenes with Hollywood's go-to baddie Waltz are some of the more believable bits of the film.

Still, all human scenes here pale in comparison with the ones featuring the jungle animals, which are fantastically rendered using computer graphics. Every strand of hair on the apes appears to move independently and every wrinkle on the elephants is deep and clear.

It is too bad that technology was not employed to make Skarsgard's face emote a little more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2016, with the headline 'Lord of the jungle is invulnerable and dull'. Print Edition | Subscribe