The story of Tarzan was first adapted to the silver screen in 1918 with Tarzan of the Apes and starred Elmo Lincoln in the title role. It became more popular with the 1932 film Tarzan the Ape Man starring Johnny Weissmuller, which went on to produce 11 sequels for the actor. There is something exciting and entertaining about a man who is able to not only survive the jungle, but conquer it as well. It is one of the best examples of the primal instincts we all carry in our genes. Tom Hanks had no animals to help him out in Castaway, but his character was able to harness his survival instincts and brave that fierce and isolating island alone for years. The happy ending of these stories is the eventual escape from the perils of the jungle and a return home to the safety of civilization, except the concept of home now pulls you in two directions. The direction of security and stability and the direction of familiar surroundings and dangers that are no less harmful, yet their predictable nature is a calming reassurance. It’s a struggle of where you belong and where you want to belong.
In The Legend of Tarzan, directed by David Yates, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) no longer goes by this moniker and now resides in 19th century England under his family name of John Clayton III. His wife Jane also has taken to a life in the city and they no longer pay any mind to their time in the jungles of Congo, with the exception of a public thirsty for stories of adventure. Unfortunately a man named Leon Rom (Christoph Rom), who represents the Belgian government, is attempting to lure Clayton back to the jungle by convincing England it would be a great diplomatic gesture between their countries if Tarzan returned. Belgium is suffering heavy debts due to their financial failures in Africa and Rom is hoping a secret area of diamonds might resolve this issue, but in order to obtain them he must produce Tarzan to a tribal chief that has history with the once great protector of the gorillas. Jane is eager to return to their old world, but Clayton is not so sure. Until an emissary of the U.S Government named George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) convinces him that Belgium may not be treating the people of Congo properly and he should see for himself. Tarzan has little time to waste and must reassert his presence in Congo, summon his raw instincts and abilities, and learn what Leon Rom has planned for this country before it’s too late.
This film is a good follow-up story to the origin of Tarzan and doesn’t retread the same material we’ve seen from the past few theatrical adaptations. There are the familiar jungle yells and vine-swinging moments, but overall it feels like a fresh take on the character. It actually reminded me of the movie Hook in some ways. Not so much in tone, but in how the character’s story centers on him abandoning his previous world only to be forced to immerse himself back in it.
The set designs of The Legend of Tarzan are well constructed with wide shots of the jungle and its beautiful horizons. The trees and savannas are immense in stature as we hover over them. It never feels confined or as if you are watching a green screen. In fact another aspect that compliments the set design is the CGI effects. The gorillas in particular are very convincing and interact with the live characters perfectly. You might make comparisons to the impeccable artistry done on The Jungle Book, but I feel they achieved a successful composition of real-life and computer imagery that isn’t overly used.
For the most part I enjoyed Samuel L. Jackson’s character in that he provided the film’s humor and lightened up the serious moments when they needed it. His chemistry with Skarsgard on screen worked, but Jackson can make good chemistry with a can of soup. He’s just that charismatic a person. Where he loses me occasionally throughout the movie is his dialogue and personality, which feels very 20th century and very Samuel L. Jackson. It makes sense in The Hateful Eight, but feels out of place here. Still that is a small criticism for someone who clearly enjoyed playing his part and it shows. There is a real sense of fun that is brought out from his nuanced performance. Margot Robbie also has great chemistry with both Alexander Skarsgard and Christoph Waltz. She shows a good amount of range in her performances and this one is no different. What elevates the only noticeable, female character is how strong and competent she is. She is opinionated and brutally honest. She is the equal to Tarzan and there are moments where you can tell he has trained her to defend herself when necessary. Christoph Waltz’s villain role is not as fully realized as his character in Inglorious Basterds, but he makes an effort to give his character real motivation. I’m actually pleased with many of the background characters as well and how they kept the story’s momentum on track.
One of the areas where the movie doesn’t work is in its editing choices. The fighting is almost always in slow motion and feels as if there is a lack of professional choreography to make it more exciting. I don’t believe the movie is too long because they do have to intersperse flashback scenes to Tarzan’s past and that adds to the running time considerably. So if you’ve never heard of Tarzan and how he came to be, you won’t be lost if this is your first introduction. I do believe they could have developed the characters better by using the same time more wisely in different areas of the movie. While the characters are great on-screen together and the action scenes are successful, there is a disconnect in the time period and its atmosphere. You sometimes feel as if you are watching an action movie rather than a period, adventure film and that tends to pull you emotionally out of the story. Perhaps it’s a matter of preference, but they did such a great job achieving realism with the apes and their scenes that I’d hoped they would ground the narrative more and make it a sincere tale of heroic adventure. It’s an imbalance that is not easy to overlook, except when the tender moments interject themselves. In spite of these flawed elements, you will maintain your interest in Tarzan, Jane, and also George Washington Williams’ journey.
The Legend of Tarzan is a fun and exciting film with several action-packed moments complimented by clever humor. While this new take is more original than in recent years, I can’t say there is anything uniquely special about this film other than the actors. Alexander Skarsgard is brilliant as the stoic and capable Tarzan. He is so convincing in his performance that when he finally has a chance to be lighthearted it is successfully funny. Margot Robbie plays Jane as you would expect that character to behave and strengthens all the scenes that don’t include Tarzan. Samuel L. Jackson is a great sidekick to Skarsgard and becomes pretty much the co-star of the movie. I only wish he achieved a better 19th century persona and erased our image of him as Nick Fury. I recommend this film to families and anyone who enjoys seeing old stories brought back to life in a spectacular way. I’m not sure it will be the most memorable of movies, but it will leave you satisfied.
The Legend of Tarzan:[usr 3.25]
About The Legend of Tarzan
Synopsis: Tarzan, having acclimated to life in London, is called back to his former home in the jungle to investigate the activities at a mining encampment.
Director: David Yates
Writers: Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer
Stars: Margot Robbie, Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel L Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent
Runtime: 1 Hour, 49 Minutes