The Legend of Tarzan – A triumphant return for a childhood hero
Growing up I loved the Tarzan television series starring Ron Ely as Tarzan. I also had the odd opportunity to catch Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) every now and again when it played on television as an afternoon matinee. Yes kids, in those days there were no repeat channels, no on-demand catch-up. If you loved a television program you rocked up front and centre for it every week. And I loved Tarzan.
In 1984 Christopher Lambert starred in the rather uppity and pretentious Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. Sure, it was a fine film, but growing up watching Tarzan talking to the animals and fighting lions was a far cry from the seriousness of the 1984 movie. Thankfully, The Legend of Tarzan suffers no such pretensions. It grabs hold of the silliness of its roots and takes us back to a Tarzan we had loved as children.
That’s not to say that this movie is at all silly. No. It’s a fun frolic, with good humour and fantastic animal scenes – ape fights, marauding hippopotamuses (or is that hippopotami?), deathly crocodiles and a couple of adorable scenes featuring lions and elephants. Alexander Skarsgard makes an excellent Tarzan / John Clayton. Physically there’s no doubt he fits the role, but his ability to play deeper into the role is surprising, and his scenes with Jane (Margot Robbie) convey a wonderful chemistry between the two.
Samuel L Jackson plays George Washington Williams. Jackson’s presence offers more than a little comic-relief but if that’s all you take from him then much of Tarzan’s message is lost. Jackson fills the gaps. Yes, Tarzan is a hero, but Jackson clues us into the why and how. His character fought slavery in America, and now wishes to fight slavery at the hands of European colonial powers. His role is at times distracting from the overall fluency of the film, but the distractions are worth it to make us feel even mightier about our hero.
And then there’s Jane. Tarzan’s wife. Believe me, she is no damsel in distress. Margot Robbie’s portrayal almost steals the movie from Tarzan himself. I absolutely loved her, and the scenes in which she interacts with the evil Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) are some of the best scenes you’d hope to see in a film which is basically little more than an adventure romp befitting our Saturday afternoon matinees. This Jane is gutsy, spunky and possessing an unwavering loyalty to both her beloved Tarzan and her African friends. Margot Robbie’s star is shining very brightly these days.
The story is told in fine style. It never rushes, but continually engages us with new elements while the overall arc plays out. Yes, as we come to the finale, it all becomes a little bit over the top, but hey, this was the Tarzan we came to see, and if he’s not swinging from ropes and vines and leading the local wildlife into battle, then what did we come for?