Friday, July 1, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan

Created by Edgar Rice Burroughs more than 100 years ago, Tarzan has been adapted countless times in film, radio, television, and print. The latest version of the jungle hero from director David Yates chooses to forgo an origin story (which is given to us in small flashbacks over the course of the movie) in favor of a more civilized Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) returning to Africa with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) to investigate troubling news concerning the Congo, where he was raised and became a legend - and where an old enemy (Djimon Hounsou) is waiting.

Physically Skarsgård is an imposing figure and he manages to capture both Tarzan's fierceness and his large heart. Robbie is delightful as the feisty Jane. Kidnapped by Christoph Waltz as a corrupt Belgian, whose resemblance to René Emile Belloq is hard to see as coincidental, Jane finds a way to fight the villain and buy time for her husband to swing in on a vine and ultimately save the day (and all of the Congo). And if Waltz is sleepwalking in the lesser version of characters he has played countless times over, what is to be said of Samuel L. Jackson playing himself in order to add a little comic relief to the proceedings?

As a summer popcorn flick The Legend of Tarzan delivers. Just don't expect anything more. Aside from Waltz and Jackson providing the bare minimum effort, there are plenty of other issues such as the fact that Hounsou's villain turns out to be little more than a plot device to drive Leon Rom's (Waltz) reason for needing Tarzan and Jane back in Africa. Other than his quips and marginal use as back-up, Jackson's character too can be removed from the film with minimal effect on the story (likely for the better).

When Tarzan is interacting with Jane, or the various animals in the wilderness, or the local tribe whose legend they still tell, the movie proves more interesting than Tarzan simply running through the jungle. That's not to say that the jungle scenes aren't impressive, but other than Zorro there's probably not a character I can think of that needs big CGI less than Tarzan (although I have to admit the look of the apes is impressive). Still, the film manages to get Tarzan in plenty of big heroic moments and sell the idea of the jungle hero to an entirely new generation of fans.

Tarzan has been the star of more than 200 films over the years. During my lifetime the best of these have been Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes and Disney's Tarzan. The Legend of Tarzan does fairly well when compared to these two slightly-better films, and far better than the dozens of lackluster Tarzan flicks in recent years such as Tarzan and the Lost City and 2013's already-forgotten Tarzan. It may not be the best possible Tarzan, but it's more entertaining than some of Hollywood's recent attempts to reboot other classic heroes (remember The Lone Ranger?).

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