At the movies: ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ |

At the movies: ‘The Legend of Tarzan’

Lisa Miller
Special to Lake Tahoe Action
This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Margot Robbie, left, and Alexander Skarsgard in a scene from "The Legend of Tarzan."
AP | Warner Bros. Entertainment


* * (C)

Directed By David Yates

Starring Margot Robbie, Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent

Lionsgate, Rated PG-13, Adventure, 109 minutes

Set in 1894, this Tarzan adaptation aims to be an historical drama while adhering to present day, politically correct standards. The film depicts the decimation of Congo people and resources in order to enrich the Belgian treasury. Although a worthy subject, it doesn’t easily fit into a swashbuckling romance. That’s right. No matter who is murdered or enslaved, this melodrama is first a testament to the undying love between Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) and Jane (Margot Robbie).

We meet Tarzan years after he’s become John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, happily domesticated with his wife Jane. Life is carefree on their sprawling, well-manicured estate. In fact, when Britain’s High Council asks Tarzan to return to the Congo as Britain’s trade emissary (a fancy word for good-will Ambassador) Tarzan declines.

It isn’t until African American politician, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), privately explains he needs Tarzan to accept the post, and accompany Williams to investigate reports of widespread slavery — that Tarzan finally accepts. Over Tarzan’s objections, feisty Jane insists upon joining them.

Oddly, while Williams was a real-life figure who really did travel to Congo to explore the mistreatment of the Congolese, he is the least credible of these characters because Jackson makes little effort to embody a man of that period and because following their initial encounter, Williams’ exists role seems to exist solely to provide a Tonto for Tarzan’s Lone Ranger.

Once the trio arrives in the Congo, they are immediately attacked by murderous raiders. Strangely, it is now that the film chooses to indulge repeated flashbacks depicting Tarzan’s adoption by the apes and his indoctrination into their society.

For permission to plunder the Congo and enslave thousands of natives to his needs, the Belgian king’s emissary, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), agrees to deliver Tarzan into the hands of the Congo’s Chief, who harbors a mighty grudge against the gentle vine-swinger. Predictably, it’s Jane who falls into Rom’s hands, prompting Tarzan to rally his jungle animal friends in an effort to free her.

The film offers several moments of enjoyment, mainly centered around Tarzan interacting with the animals. Created in CGI, elephants, lions, apes are among the spectacular creatures. Muscle-toned, 6-foot-4 Skarsgard, dwarfs the film’s other humans, but he is refreshingly scrawny next to his male ape counterparts.

While Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote “Tarzan” as popular pulp fiction in 1912, for this film the character is reborn as a socially aware champion of love and human rights. There may be a formula to make this strategy work, but neither this partially fictionalized historical drama, nor it visually stunning 3D effects, come close to finding that balance. It’s a shame because Skarsgard is excellent in the role. He’s fun to watch and thoughtful enough to be a Tarzan we want to root for.

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