Tarzan has more credits then Samuel L. Jackson. Tarzan, the archetypal feral child raised in the African jungles, was created in 1912 by legendary author, Edgar Rise Burroughs and seen over 25 books released since the first 1914 publication. In edition to the books, Tarzan films have been in production since 1918 and has accumulated over two hundred movies with Tarzan in the title. The latest film, The Legend of Tarzan premiers in theatres July 1st 2016 hoping to attract a whole new audience and revitalize the brand.
After over a century, the world is flying through the vines with Tarzan (in 3D this time) yet again. And the thing is, he’s never been a huge box office draw. Outside the box-office power of Disney, Tarzan has never been a hugely profitable business in the film industry. So why has a Tarzan project been made almost every decade for the past century? Looking at The Legend of Tarzan, it’s (arguably) not because of Alexander Skarsgård rocking a superhero-like Tarzan body. It’s more so that Tarzan isn’t a superhero is why Tarzan appeals to the masses over a century after his first book was published. He doesn’t have a high tech suit, daddy issues, anger issues, access to a Norse god, super soldier serums or aliens. He’s just a normal guy doing extraordinary things. He’s swinging through the vines, fighting apes, savage tribes, jumping onto trains from vines; escapism.
And the director of The Legend of Tarzan, David Yates has included plenty of that with this new movie. He’s stayed true to the pulpy origins of the character by crafting a story that sees Tarzan accepting his identity of Tarzan with that of his identity in the world, John Clayton through his love for Jane when she’s kidnapped and he’s got to rip off his shirt one more time. David Yates crafted a solid film with some stunning visuals. But Yates’ tendency to frame in tight on his actors does create for some visual confusion for some of the action scenes. You have the set up for some amazing environments and some amazing physical presences, particularly with Djimon Hounsou and Skarsgård and you never feel quite satisfied. Hounsou is the prime example of how good this cast is – which is also brings out the biggest flaw in the film.
The story centres around the Belgian government’s hold on the Congo in 1884. King Leopol is nearly bankrupt and can’t afford to pay his army. So he sends his right hand, Christoph Waltz’s Leon Rom, to find the legendary African diamonds to pay for his army to come in and seize the country so he can strip it of it’s minerals. Rom brokers a deal with Hounsou’s, Chief Mbonga. The leader of this savage mountain tribe that has brutally killed Rom’s party will give him all the diamonds he wants if he brings him Tarzan so he can finally kill him. This is the driving force that gets Tarzan back to Africa. And that story never sees a full conclusion because there is just so many characters in this story. That being said, when you have presences of an actor as strong as Skarsgård against Hounsou, for the time they are on screen together is the best part of the film.
Alexander Skarsgård plays Tarzan as a man of few words and his performance comes through that presences of his. It comes off as a man wrestling with who he is. John Clayton is very quiet, prime and proper. You almost get the sense John Clayton is taking a lot of effort to maintain for Tarzan. And it comes through his relationship with Jane. Again, Yates pushes the romance between Tarzan and Jane by bringing both to Africa and allowing who both Jane and Tarzan are to come out naturally. Credit to Skarsgård for succeeding with doing a lot with so little by the end of the film, you see how relaxed he is and you feel like Tarzan is finally Tarzan again.
Credit to Margo Robbie for not being a damsel in distress to the point where Jane actually refuses to be the damsel in distress when Rom confronts her. Margo Robbie has had a relatively short career, but her talent speaks for itself when she acts against the likes of Christoph Waltz and doesn’t give an inch. Robbie’s Jane plays a delicate balance of being a reason for Tarzan to head his waist coat and become Tarzan again and being the traditional useless woman who spends the movie needing men to help her. To the credit of Yates and Robbie, Jane never once got to the other end of that scale. Even during the flashbacks to when she first met Tarzan. Yates established Waltz’s Rom from the start as a true patriot, a man that loves his country and his king. That creates a character who doesn’t have any fear. Which is the only way to create a character that can be any sort of physical threat to Tarzan. Waltz was every bit the threat psychically as he is in a presence.
Skarsgård and Robbie don’t have the best chemistry – credit to the both of them as actors to successfully make their relationship work in the sense of John Clayton’s identity crisis in the beginning of the movie.
Credit to Yates for casting Sam Jackson in the role of the loudmouth American ambassador that Tarzan meets on the his trip to Africa. This is a role Jackson know well and plays George Washington Williams with the style only he knows. Williams is America’s eye on Africa, looking to substantiate the rumours of slavery against King Leopol. Jackson and Skarsgård have some terrific chemistry that really creates the relationship that drives the majority of the film. It’s a relationship based of alpha male bravado that evolves into one of comrades in arms.
The Legend of Tarzan comes with a $180 million dollar budget. And you can see why they needed such a large budget with every bit of cash being pushed into making this film bigger. This film captures the grandeur of the books but addressing Tarzan’s life before meeting Jane. And it all leads up to a massive set piece where Tarzan fights a massive silverback ape. This isn’t a $300 million dollar movie, so at times, it’s quite clear when something is CGI. But it’s never a problem because Yates never set out to make a film that will win an Oscar or move you and allow your soul to cry. I can only imagine how great this film could be if it was given a longer run time that allowed every character to get their due and if Yates allowed the frame to take in the beauty of Africa.
But the issues aside, what Yates did, was bring together a great cast of actors to tell a story that will give you a smile, allow you to eat some popcorn and escape the 9 – 5 for a few hours. And that’s what Tarzan has always done better then anyone.