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Dan's Review: "The Legend of Tarzan" more like a fantasy

Jul 01, 2016 12:03AM ● Published by Dan Metcalf

Alexander Skarsgård and Margot Robbie in The Legend of Tarzan - © 2016 Warner Bros.

The Legend of Tarzan (Warner Bros.)

Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, some sensuality and brief rude dialogue.

Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent, Christoph Waltz, John Hurt, Casper Crump, Hadley Fraser, Simon Russell.

Written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, based on Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Directed by David Yates.

GRADE: C+

REVIEW:

Movies have a strange way of rewriting history and changing world perceptions. Sometimes a fantasy becomes fact in the hearts and minds of audiences. For instance, there are people out there who think the fictional Jack and Rose really did have an adventure on the Titanic. When it comes to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ adventures of Tarzan, although fictional, the main character is anchored in the real world, with real historic markers along the way. There comes a time when you can stretch that real-world setting a little too far and thus manipulate the world view into a fantasy, like a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings film. Such is the case of The Legend of Tarzan, a movie that reaches far into a fictional “legend” and further away from its source material.

Alexander Skarsgård stars as John Clayton III (A.K.A. Tarzan) in a story that picks up sometime after his origin story. He’s living in England with his beautiful wife Jane (Margot Robbie) when an American opportunist named George Washington Williams comes calling upon the English prime minister (Jim Broadbent) to recruit Tarzan for a new mission in the Congo. Williams is certain that Captain Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) is taking over the African country on behalf of King Leopold of Belgium, trying to enslave the continent in pursuit of diamonds and other natural resources. Tarzan reluctantly agrees, and travels to the village where he met his wife and near where he was raised by gorillas. After they arrive, the village is attacked by Rom and his men, Jane is kidnapped, and Tarzan brings Williams along on a quest to save her. Along the way, they encounter Tarzan’s old gorilla family, and the reunion is not friendly. They soon find out that Rom is using an adversary tribal chief (Djimon Hounsou)’s hatred to lure Tarzan into captivity, so that the Belgians can rule the continent without Africa’s mightiest warrior in the way. Tarzan rallies the wild animals to attack Rom’s stronghold before he can make a deal with an army of mercenaries.

The Legend of Tarzan has a few things going for it, mostly some above average special effects and a few moments of adventurous action. It also has Christoph Waltz, who delivers his own special brand of charming evil as the main antagonist. The rest of the film seems void of a natural element, in a setting that belongs in a fantasy world, rather than 1880s Africa. Speaking of Africa, The Legend of Tarzan makes the Dark Continent appear like a tight knit localized neighborhood connected by rivers and railways that make it possible to traverse it in a day’s time. Even Middle Earth seems more realistic by comparison.

Another puzzling aspect of The Legend of Tarzan is a resolution that’s a little too tidy for the real world, especially when one considers all the political, socioeconomic and cultural upheaval seen on the African continent over the past 150 years. The film makes it seem like Tarzan overcomes all that unpleasantness and delivers a “happily ever after” that belongs in a Disney feature. It would seem that director David Yates is sticking to his preferred fantasy genre in a movie that is more Harry Potter than Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s okay to suspend reality in movies, but it gets a little silly when you throw it out the window.

It should also be noted that The Legend of Tarzan is not an origin film (except via flashbacks), but a sequel of sorts to any number of previous Tarzan movies, including 1981’s Tarzan the Ape Man, 1983’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan and Disney’s 1999 animated feature Tarzan. It’s a little confusing, unless you are well versed in Tarzan lore.


The Legend of Tarzan Trailer

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