After adapting to life as John Clayton, Lord of Greystoke, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) is called back to Africa. After receiving an invitation from the Belgian colonial royalty to visit the Congo, whispers of slavery, mercenaries and exploitation cloud the summons’ intent. The ‘King of the Jungle’ and his Jane (Margot Robbie) return home to investigate.
When adapting a seminal British novel for the screen; look no further than the tried and true David Yates (The Harry Potter Films Five through to Seven Part Two). At the helm of The Legend of Tarzan he does a tremendous job bringing a Tarzan to the screen that doesn’t force the audience to endure another feature length origin story of a character that is so well known in popular culture that the ‘gist’ is enough.
The colour scheme in the introductory scenes demonstrate Yates’ visual palette, well learned in the washed out greys of old English housing estates, cold castle hallways, or desolate moors. In some scenes it’s absolutely inspired. Watching Djimon Hounsou’s Chief Mbonga and his white clay/ash coloured warriors envelop Rom’s soldiers is pretty breathtaking. The golden-hued flashbacks feel like the colour you’d associate with nostalgia and they work to differentiate the memories from the present for the characters. However, the colour alteration felt like it extinguished the vibrant ochre colours of the Congo once the characters arrive in Africa.
The digital versions of the animals too vary quite significantly in quality. The apes, enveloped by the shadows of the thick Congo rainforests, are pretty close to the standards of the latest Apes films. On the other hand though, a whole bunch of the digital animals in the rest of the film are pretty much at I Am Legend level graphics and it’s hard to not be shaken from your disbelief.
Writer’s Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer have the issue of attempting to bring relevance to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ extremely dated source material. Somehow a white orientalist fantasy set in Africa just doesn’t seem like it has any possibility of being able to remain relevant in 2016. This is not something that you’re going to be able to go into with any pretence that you’ll get ‘historical’ accuracy, other than an entry point into the story. Much like Tarantino said of his heroes from “Inglorious Basterds” (and I’m paraphrasing); if my characters were real during World War Two, that’s how it would have turned out. Tarzan is a uniting figure for disparate tribes, political forces and animals alike. He’s a force of celebrity and power; in a sense he’s a demigod in his universe. Cozad and Brewer make some slight but significant choices with characters that give it the life that make this watchable.
Margot Robbie’s Jane is just so sassy and great. There’s an energy that she’s able to bring to the role that brings the material to life. The writers really solidify her connection to the African people, while Tarzan’s connection is to that of the natural world. She’s a fierce woman that refuses to play damsel, despite being a captive. There are more than several nods to Marion Ravenwood along the way. SLJ’s GWW is another heroic outsider, seeking out & righting injustices of slavery around the world after suffering the United States Civil War. He’s the steady comedic relief and the refreshing anti-colonial voice of reason for the film.
Alexander Skarsgård is the kind of guy that feels like words aren’t his first language. He looks the part, taking the True Blood-lust to whole new levels. I measure the success by the stereo exhales from my wife and gay friend as he removed his shirt as validation that the time in the gym and thousands of additional calories paid off. He’s a character that speaks in actions rather than words, and those rare words feel strained.
The Legend of Tarzan is unexpectedly entertaining; but I’d go back to Africa again in person before revisiting.
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer (based on the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs)
Alexander Skarsgård: John Clayton/Tarzan
Margot Robbie: Jane
Samuel L. Jackson: George Washington Williams
Christoph Waltz: Leon Rom
Sidney Ralitsoele: Wasimbu
Osy Ikhile: Kwete
Djimon Hounsou: Chief Mbonga