Another “re-imagining” of the Tarzan tale? Could this work at all?
might be surprised by how some wise choices contribute to David Yates’s The Legend of Tarzan being a fairly satisfying experience.
The first solid choice is not to make this an origin story like we’ve seen repeatedly with franchises in recent years. When the proceedings begin, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) is settled in London as Lord Greystoke with wife Jane (Margot Robbie). His childhood of growing up in the wild and being able to communicate with the jungle creatures is told as backstory and it doesn’t take up much screen time.
Of course, we know a plot point must return Greystoke to his native grounds. It involves bad guy Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) collecting some precious diamonds from a tribe led by a Chief (Djimon Hounsou). In exchange for the stones, the Chief only wants Tarzan in return. You see – our title character had a run-in with the Chief’s only son years ago.
To the jungle we go with lots of CG animals that look fine, though maybe not quite as exquisite as in The Jungle Book or the revamped Apes franchise. Joining Big T on the adventure are his wife and American envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson).
The second welcome choice here is Robbie, who’s radiance has permiated everything she’s been in. Beyond her top-notch work, the screenwriters succeed in making her more than a Damsel in a White Dress. She’s tough, feisty, funny, and equal to her man.
Tarantino stalwarts Waltz and Jackson give you pretty much what you’d expect. Jackson gets a couple decent one-liners and Waltz could play the conniving villain role in his sleep (and has with superior writing). Skarsgard’s performance will be remembered more for his muscle tone and vine swinging than much else (he looks the part though).
Even though this legend has been around forever, you may find yourself recalling this year’s live-action version of Kipling’s Jungle Book from time to time and not just because of the CG. A scene where elephants are bowed to and treated as mystical creatures? Check. Overtones of colonialism that the filmmakers don’t really know how to deal with? Little bit. That said, we’ve got hungry hippos in Tarzan and they weren’t in Jon Favreau’s movie!
So while this may feel a bit familiar, the aforementioned pluses make this frequent return to this legend an entertaining enough time.
*** (out of four)