Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan is probably that author’s best known creation. A man raised by apes in the deepest jungles of Africa, Tarzan has been portrayed many times over the years since his first in-print appearance in 1912. A new movie, The Legend of Tarzan, attempts to bring the character into the twenty first century.
How was it?
Rather dull, truth be told.
Was the world awaiting a new Tarzan? I don’t know. The character has a long history, and much of it is a bit embarrassing by modern standards. Burroughs and later movie producers tended to have their time periods’ ideas on race in their work, and the white man living in the jungle who is superior to all men and beasts can be a bit much. This movie attempts to make some amends here, but how successful those efforts are could be up to the individual. Arguably, the movie may go too far the other way.
Yes, this version of Tarzan truly has some twenty-first century ideas rolling around. The true villains are Europeans exploiting the jungle for all its worth. The natives are made into slaves, their resources stollen by the Belgians (now there’s a nationality you don’t see as the ultimate evil very often), and there’s even a shot of a couple of train cars full of elephant tusks. The treatment of the Native Americans is brought up for good measure. I can see some people complaining the movie is too PC.
But as for the movie itself, I found it a bit boring more than anything else. The English Lord Graystoke, John Clayton (Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgard) is asked to return to Africa for another adventure. Though initially reluctant for some reason, he eventually agrees. Along for the ride is his plucky American-born wife Jane (Australian actress Margot Robbie), and another American, one Dr. George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson). Setting the whole thing in motion is a master villain, the Belgian Leon Rom (Austrian actor Christoph Waltz).
So, Swedish guy is English, Australian gal is American, and Belgian baddie is Austrian. Got that?
Skasgard’s Tarzan is actually a man of few words. By that I mean he doesn’t talk much. Fans of the actor’s bare torso will probably be satisfied, but anyone hoping for some explanations or character growth will be disappointed. I suppose having chattier onscreen presences like Robbie and Jackson can make up for that, but I didn’t see much of anything from those two or Waltz that I haven’t seen before many times. The script does none of these actors much of a service, making them all paint-by-number types. Likewise wasted is Djimon Hounsou as a tribal chief with a grudge against Tarzan. These are some really talented actors given little to do of any interest. Waltz maybe comes across best, especially as his Rom has a rather unique personal weapon, but how Skarsgard’s Tarzan manages to beat that weapon may be a bridge too far for some viewers. I know it was for me.
I will give a couple things in the movie’s favor. For one, the special effects aren’t bad. They aren’t as good as The Jungle Book‘s, but the apes look pretty impressive at times. And for a second point in the movie’s favor, it’s not an origin story. John/Tarzan is already an established hero in this world, with only a few flashbacks here and there to give the backstory. Former Harry Potter director David Yates at least knows how to handle a special effects-laden film.
But there weren’t any characters to really care about here so much as a couple sketches that needed more work, especially Tarzan himself. CGI apes provoking more emotion in the viewer is not a good thing. I get that they don’t want to make him talkative, but some more development of his character and what his real feelings were for Africa and his initial reluctance to return would have been nice. As it is, I’m giving the movie six and a half ants that taste like bacon out of ten.
And yes, we do hear the yell a couple times.