© Warner Bros. Pictures Germany

The Legend of Tarzan
U.S.A. 2016

Opening 28 Jul 2016

Directed by: David Yates
Writing credits: Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Principal actors: Alexander Skarsgård, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Rory J. Saper

Considering the long history of Tarzan stories, originally written by Edgar Rice Burroughs beginning 1912, it is no surprise that a new film has been created based on this famous personality. This joins more than 100 films since 1918, with Tarzan having been portrayed by, among others, Johnny Weissmüller, Lex Baker, Goren Scott and Christopher Lambert. There have been Tarzan comics, animated films and TV series. The musical Tarzan premiered in Hamburg in 2008 and is still running throughout Germany. Why give up on a good thing?

Writers Cozad and Brewer put together a new idea based on actual history. In 1884 the Congo is divided up and King Leopold II of Belgium gets a big chunk, which becomes the Belgian Congo. It was a time of hardship for the natives, who are exploited to work on rubber plantations and deliver ivory and precious minerals (diamonds) to Europe. An estimated 10 million inhabitants die over the next 20 years.

In the film, Tarzan (Skarsgård) has left the jungle and lives in style in the family Greystoke Manor. He is in the House of Lords in England and goes by his birth name: John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke. He is married, naturally, to the original Jane (Robbie), who followed him to England (although she is an American). King Leopold II sends his faithful follower Leon Rom (Waltz) to deliver 20,000 Belgian soldiers to the area, to get the diamonds out of the country and to handover “that little monkey boy” to Chief Mbonga (Hounson), who is looking for revenge. Twenty minutes into the film all major characters are in the Congo.

From this point on it is 80% violent fighting between soldiers, good natives, bad natives, Tarzan, gorillas, hippopotamuses, buffaloes, and crocodiles. Then, 19% is kitsch-y conversation between Jane (while captive on a ship) and Leon Rom, between Tarzan and Jane, between Leon Rom and Chief Mbonga, between Tarzan and a gorilla and so on. The final 1% is what we all expected: Tarzan swinging on vines through the jungle – still his fastest way of travel. Interspersed into the plot are flashbacks of Tarzan as a baby, as a child, being raised by a gorilla, first meeting Jane, etc., in order to educate any viewer not versed in the life of Tarzan.

The most interesting character is new on the Tarzan scene: Dr. George Washington Williams (Jackson). He bounces around among the various groups as the diplomatic envoy of the United States and reminisces in a deep southern U.S. accent about his part in the U.S. Civil War and fighting in Mexico. He has the best lines, e.g., “Do you want me to lick his (ape) nuts, too?” or “You look like you were going to give me a hug,” a comment definitely not 19th century. The most interesting weapon is a rosary which serves Rom well. Some of the Tarzan/ape scenes are reminiscent of Leonardo di Caprio’s confrontation with the bear in The Revenant, possibly not so surprising considering that these apes, like the bear, are also computerized. Serious Tarzan fans might be disappointed at the superficiality, but everyone else can enjoy the beautiful scenery filmed in Great Britain and Italy. (Becky Tan)

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