The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

The Legend of Tarzan (2016), directed by David Yates, written by Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer, starring Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Cristopher Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou

I really wasn't expecting to like the Legend of Tarzan as much as I did. It was mauled by the critics, having an aggregated 35% ar Rotten Tomatoes from the critics and only a slightly better 59% from the audience.  So my expectations weren't that high. But I did like it in the end.

Despite the Legend of Tarzan alters many things of the character's history, and let's face it, they pretty much had to considering how inflammatory some of the material Burroughs wrote is in a modern context, it feels like something he might have had written. The story flows like a Burroughs written Tarzan story, with even a familiar plot device of having Tarzan running all along the jungles, trying to save Jane from the villains.

The story here begins from Congo, where King Leopold of Belgium has begun to exploit his new colony with an iron fist. The events portrayed here are based on real history, as Leopold did commit many atrocities in his quest of trying to squeeze every bit of wealth out of the country.

Leon Rom (Waltz) has set out to loot the famed jewels of Opar as Belgium us running low on capital. With the wealth of Opar, Leopold is hoping to finance a private army, that would help him crush Congo even deeper under his heels. There's just one obstacle on Rom's way, Chief Mbonga, who guards the way to the city of Opar. But there's something Mbonga wants and Rom is certain he can deliver it: Tarzan.

Tarzan (Skarsgård) and Jane (Robbie) have been living in England for 9 years, trying to adjust living in industrialised London. On this version of the story, both of them are jungle children, as while Jane still is American, she spent a considerable amount of her childhood in Africa, as her father was a teacher there. Neither of them is really happy there, but Tarzan is now lord of the manor and he has responsibilities.

There's an invitation from King Leopold the politicians of England want Tarzan to embark on. It would be kind of a diplomatic journey, which they hope would strengthen the relations between two countries if only Tarzan would play ball. At first, he's not interested, but an American reporter, Williams (Jackson) turns his head by telling him of the abuse he suspects is happening in Tarzan's former home. So the three of them embark on a journey to find out the truth.

When they finally get to Africa, Tarzan and Jane are happy to see some old friends, both beasts and native Africans. But then, the troops of Rom capture Jane and several of the tribals so from here begins the mighty game of cat and mouse.

While the Legend of Tarzan is not an origin story, it does go through the origins of Tarzan and Jane in several flashbacks, where we see the hardships of the youth of Tarzan as well as the demise of his parents. We get to see how he grew among the apes as do we get to see why Mbonga hates Tarzan with such a passion. Tarzan killed his son in rage because he killed Kala, Tarzan's adoptive mother.

The movie version of Tarzan feels guilt because of that and that is one big difference between the Tarzan that Burroughs wrote and this one: in the novels, Tarzan didn't really feel much remorse for killing native Africans and his attitude often was, that he was superior to them. He's also not as strong as he's in the novels, as Akut, his ape brother easily defeats him in hand to hand combat.

One little touch I liked a lot was the reference on how growing up with apes and walking most of his youth in fours, using his knuckles as support, changed the bone structure on his hands. It's just a small scene, but I thought it was clever.

Tarzan still is just as savage at heart as he was described by Burroughs. Despite there's a layer of civilisation on him, even after the years spent in England haven't changed his more primal nature, which flames up when a need arises.

Jane is also portrayed as more headstrong and independent on this version than she was in the novels. While she can take care of herself on the novels, she also was a mandatory damsel in distress as well, whereas she comes out a bit more resourceful here, which is a good thing.

If there's anything wrong about the movie, it's the tad inconsistent nature of the writing. While the story does flow well, some of the dialogue doesn't feel fitting to the time period portrayed in the movie, which is late 19th century.  At times Jackson also hams his performance a bit too much as well, albeit he's good here on a whole. Waltz and Hounsou make a good pair of villains and both of them feel like something Burroughs might have written, down to the leopard skin and claws donning Chief Mbonga.

The special effects could have used some tuning as well, especially on the scene with the big apes, at times the don't quite match up with the real actors. But overall, that side of the movie works reasonably well, though this is something that will look very dated in ten years or so.

All in all, the Legend of Tarzan is a solid take on the adventures of jungle born and raised lord Greystoke.  Despite the critics didn't love it, it's not a travesty of a flick, far from it. It is quite enjoyable and in the end, that's what the novels aimed up to be as well.