Full of action, the new 'Legend of Tarzan' trailer still disappoints

We've just gotten a tease of Tarzan's first live-action return to the silver screen since 1988's "Tarzan and the Lost City." But will story take a back seat to spectacle?

Michael Franco
Freelancer Michael Franco writes about the serious and silly sides of science and technology for CNET and other pixel and paper pubs. He's kept his fingers on the keyboard while owning a B&B in Amish country, managing an eco-resort in the Caribbean, sweating in Singapore, and rehydrating (with beer, of course) in Prague. E-mail Michael.
Michael Franco
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Alexander Skarsgård's Tarzan. Man or Superman?

Warner Bros. dropped its first trailer for "The Legend of Tarzan" on Wednesday. Despite the epic soundtrack, gorgeous scenery, wild swings through the jungle, strange white frozen people and an impressive cast including Samuel L. Jackson, an intense Margot Robbie and an ostensibly ripped Alexander Skarsgård -- who's certainly filled out a bit from his days as lean vampire Eric on HBO's "True Blood" -- the two-minute-long clip didn't exactly leave me beating my chest in approval.

I think my main issue with it is that it looks to me like the producers are trying to turn Tarzan into a Marvel-like superhero instead of letting him just be a guy raised by apes in the jungle. The idea of the film -- that Tarzan has to return to the jungle years after living the good life as Lord Greystoke -- is a good one, but there's a decent chance that mining the emotional aspects of such a return, or the relationship between Tarzan and his wife Jane, are going to get blasted off the screen by CGI bluster.

I also think -- in as much as you can analyze these things from a two-minute clip -- that the movie seems like a mash-up of other films. We see Skarsgaard flying through the jungle a bit like Batman swinging through Gotham in "The Dark Knight Trilogy," there are simian battles a la "Planet of the Apes," and the jungle scenes with requisite natives evoke 2005's "King Kong." There's even a moment where an ape gets in Jackson's face, evoking the alien threatening Ripley in 1979's "Alien."

I think it would have been much more refreshing to have seen a grittier take on Tarzan -- taking a page more from Marvel's "Daredevil" and "Jessica Jones" series on Netflix than from their Avengers mega-CGI extravaganza films. But blockbuster is the operative word here, and being that this film is slated for release in summer 2016, the producers no doubt thought it necessary to impress with spectacle rather than substance.

There is though, a compelling piece of prose accompanying the trailer. "The jungle consumes everything," says the opening voiceover. "It preys on the old, the sick, the wounded. It preys on the weak, but never the strong." That's followed by Jane's take on her hubbie: "He is no normal man. He was thought to be an evil spirit, a ghost in the trees. No man ever started with less."

Evocative dialogue like that, plus the all-star cast and director David Yates at the helm -- who directed the last four Harry Potter films as well as the forthcoming Potter spin-off, "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," -- could just make for a film that proves me wrong. And if I'm not, an "Avengers in the jungle" film might not be a bad way to spend a hot summer afternoon anyway.

"The Legend of Tarzan is scheduled for release on July 1 in both 2D and, naturally, 3D.