Certainly one of the most enduring characters in all of literature and definitely movies is Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan. In terms of cinema, beginning with Johnny Weissmuller’s immortal interpretation of the tree-swinging man brought up by apes in the jungles, there have been countless actors who have taken on the role. But as I say in my video review above, none was more iconic than former Olympic swim champ Weissmuller.
Through the years, many different ripped actors have tried to top him — although oddly Bo Derek made one of the biggest splashes with her Jane in the awful 1981 Tarzan The Ape Man, which basically turned the whole tale into a soft porn movie. Three years later, respect was restored in the well-received Greystoke; The Legend Of Tarzan Lord Of The Apes and later even in Disney’s animated take which eventually turned into a Broadway musical version. With so many endless attempts over the years, you have to wonder if there is anything new left to tell, but with technological advances in special effects and CGI you can definitely see what attracted director David Yates (the last two Harry Potter films) to try and bring something fresh to the series.
That he has done and more, with some spectacular action scenes as well as remarkable animal work, even though not a single one of them — from the apes to the lions and so on — are remotely real. They are all CGI, and knowing no actual animals were in harm’s way increases viewer satisfaction, especially since the relationship Tarzan has with them has never been more poignantly or pointedly been brought to the screen.
As in the 1984 Greystoke, much of this version in the first half takes place in Victorian England, where John Clayton III, Earl Of Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) has left his years as his alter ego Tarzan behind and is still trying to adjust to life in the big city after a decade away from the jungle. But the trees beckon when he is asked to return by King Leopold of Belgium who wants to show off the “wonderful” things he has done since occupying Clayton’s former home in the Congo. Of course that is all a lie perpetrated by evil Leon Rom, his henchman played to the hilt by the movies’ go-to villain of late Christoph Waltz. Clayton turns down the offer but ultimately is convinced by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) to return, as this soldier-turned-humanitarian has his own personal reasons of heritage to take the trip back with the King of the Jungle.
So they do go and soon find out it is a trap with Rom making a deal with tribal chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) who has some bad feelings about previous encounters with Tarzan and wants payback. He promises Rom a boatload of diamonds, part of the natural environment, in return for Clayton/Tarzan. This conveniently will pay off the shady Belgium King’s large debt. Meanwhile, Jane (Margot Robbie making an exceptionally strong Jane) becomes hostage to Rom’s devious plans and Clayton/Tarzan must ultimately rescue her and rekindle their romance which plays a nice part in this version as well.
In addition to high adventure, this version does really focus on the unique love story between Tarzan and Jane. Yates has brought a nice fresh perspective to the tale and benefited greatly from being able to stage thrilling action scenes like no other Tarzan that has come before. Robbie is the perfect Jane to Skarsgard’s perfectly cast Tarzan. He certainly looks the part, perhaps coming closest in that department to Ron Ely’s muscular, lean and model-looking Tarzan of the 1960s NBC TV series. Skarsgard can really act though. Waltz is my only problem here: He has played so many villains of late that there is no real surprise factor that he turns out to be the bad guy. You know from the first moment he walks into frame, and that leads to some predictability in the proceedings. But that is really a minor quibble in such a fine-looking, old-fashioned fun adventure as this one. Whether modern audiences will respond is another question, but there is a reason Tarzan endures and in 3D and Imax he is bigger and better than ever.
Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer wrote the script. Producers were David Barron, Tony Ludwig, Alan Riche and the late Jerry Weintraub, who worked for years to bring this new take on the tree-swinging legend but didn’t live to see it finally released. It is a fitting final film for the producing giant. Village Roadshow and Warner Bros collaborated, with Warners releasing on Friday.
Do you plan to see The Legend Of Tarzan? Let us know what you think.