A visually gorgeous creation with scenes of Africa and wild life that are stunning on the big screen
Having grown up enthralled by Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, I’ve always had more of an affection for Mowgli over the other feral child who grows up to beat his chest, emit his famous yowl (is there really another word for Tarzan’s famous cry?), and is purportedly the lord of the jungle.
Over the years, due to several terrible film interpretations of Tarzan, the character has gained a reputation for being embarrassingly camp: a half-naked wild man who speaks broken English, communes with wild beasts, and drags women around by their hair.
Fortunately, the new screen adaptation pays attention to the original source material from Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes novels, allowing Tarzan (played by the very handsome Alexander Skarsgård) to be the noble, reserved, charismatic and highly intelligent character that Burroughs wrote him to be, wielding enormous physical power matched by a quick brain that allows him the gifts of a polyglot. This romantic figure is buttressed by his aristocratic heritage: Tarzan is by birth John Clayton III, Viscount Greystoke, an English lord with immense wealth at his fingertips.
Set in the early 1900s, The Legend of Tarzan begins with the now-civilised Lord Greystoke being accosted by the British Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent), who tries to persuade him to accept an invitation to the Belgian Congo at the request of King Leopold II in order to help British diplomatic ties with Belgium. When Greystoke politely, succinctly, and articulately declines, we see the polished veneer of British nobility augmented with a flash of the wild, indomitable spirit that makes Tarzan so fascinating.
Ultimately the wild man-turned-gentleman is persuaded to return to the place of his birth by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), an American diplomat who suspects the ugly truth — that the tribal people are being enslaved to build road and bridges.
Tarzan returns to the jungle accompanied by his beloved Jane (the lovely, feisty Margo Robbie) and with Williams in tow, to try and save his former family (both human and animal). The real truth is far more ugly, and unfortunately a pretty fair indictment of how Western colonisers treated their fellow Africans, bringing a much-needed political context into the romantic tale of a man who was brought up by apes.
While the film has not done well at the box office, it is extremely well made: a visually gorgeous creation with scenes of Africa and wild life that are stunning on the big screen.
For the continuing sceptics though, I give you this — never once in this engaging film are the words “Me Tarzan, you Jane” uttered, a blessing in itself and one more reason to give this surprisingly decent film some of your time.