Austin’s review published on Letterboxd:
I like David Yates as a filmmaker. He did a great job closing out the Harry Potter franchise, but something I noticed with back then was that he was better with the character moments than he was filming the action. Don't get me wrong, they way he filmed the set-pieces weren't bad, but he was much stronger with the small dialogue scenes, and the relationship the actors in those films made over the years only helped him out.
The problem with The Legend of Tarzan is that he doesn't have the same bond uniting the cast, so the quiet scenes that Yates usually hits out of the park don't work nearly as well and cost the film it's emotional core. The film may hit the right notes on paper, but it ultimately fails in the end. The lead is a total bore and has no chemistry with anyone on-screen, the film jumps all over the place and the action is full of unfinished CGI and obvious green-screen work.
That isn't to say this reboot/sequel doesn't have some redeeming qualities. Yates and his director of photography Henry Braham do manage to create some visually striking images, but they resort to using close-ups far too often. And despite having little to do, both Samuel L. Jackson and Margot Robbie shine in their supporting roles and add some levity to an otherwise dark film.
One thing I completely disagree with Yates on is the casting of Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan. The man is so dull and emotionless, I'm convinced he was made in a factory somewhere. I thought it was weird that Warner Bros. rarely (if ever) showed Tarzan talking in the ads, and now I see why. There's no emotion in him, and it sadly shows on screen. Yes, I get *who* Tarzan is, but he's an established "human" here, so I was expecting a bit more from his character. Christoph Waltz, despite being far more charismatic, doesn't fare much better, playing the same character he's been playing for the last ten films or so.
There are attempts to humanize these characters, but the structure and purpose of the film ultimately hold them back. The film constantly jumps back and forth between past and present, and it gets quite jarring. Tarzan's birth and childhood flashbacks feel sorely out of place within the context of the film and would have worked much better at the start rather than spread throughout. The filmmakers also try to have audiences connect with events that happened in previous (unconnected) films, but they're so half-assed that someone who isn't familiar with the character would certainly feel out of the loop.
And as I said earlier, Yates can shoot action, it just isn't his strong suit. Sadly, he still feels out of his league, even after helming a few big-budget films prior to this. The action beats never feel "big" enough, the backgrounds they take place in are usually green-screened and the sped up frame-rate makes some of the fights feel cheap. At least the apes look good?
Look, it's totally harmless and means well, but The Legend of Tarzan is just a boring film. The action is uneventful, the conflicts between these characters aren't anything to write home about and the lead is a walking robot. It has the classic elements of a pulpy adventure tale, but it doesn't have the energy or drive to make it work for modern audiences.