Whilst Tarzan, the ape man, is a household name thanks to Edgar Rice Burrough’s base novel Tarzan of the Apes and its twenty-something sequels, forgive me in citing him a household name to a lower generation down to Disney’s loose animated adaptation, excelled with the genius musical talents of Phil Collins.
This reimagining, The Legend of Tarzan, is the first live-action format in quite some time, with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows director David Yates at the helm with a stellar cast to support. Does it withstand this day, and does the absence of Phil Collin’s hinder it? Answer is of course Phil Collin’s departed presence hinders it, but this is still the best adaptation of Tarzan we’ve had and could have ever possibly have hoped to see.
It’s a decade after initially leaving the jungle for the now-married Congo couple Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard, True Blood) and Jane (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad), but with rumblings of their home being trampled on by money-hungry politicians and their people forced into slavery, the two must return and put right what once was — of course with the help of a few furry friends along the way.
The film takes us to a place where we’ve never witnessed Tarzan truly; on the streets of old Victorian London where Tarzan is no more and dapper Lord Greystoke, or John Clayton to be precise, resides. Barely content with their lives, Tarzan and Jane have conformed to what initially they think must be. Yates’ reimagining sets up these rather dull portraits of two beloved on-screen characters in a borderline bleak lifestyle, with the only genuine smirk of intrigue being that the spark between Skarsgard and Robbie. Leave it to Samuel L. Jackson to trigger events, leading the team to the bewitching plains of the Congo, and thus the real Tarzan is born.
The colonisation of the Congo and the importance of squashing slave labour is thematically rife in Tarzan’s newest adventure, but whilst these importances are levered by the maniacal grin of supreme bad guy Christoph Waltz the most dazzling concept of Yates’ vision is the severe scope of this. A heightened sense of sheer adventure is blown wide open by vigorous action sequences — most of which feature the Mangani apes that adopted Tarzan, or other jungle-like critters that stampede the screen, literally, and litter the sequences with a ferocious excitement.
Amidst the carnage and sheer escapism is of course Tarzan himself, played here by Swede actor Skarsgard. Filled with the entitlement of bringing this character to a brand new audience, it’s a feat in itself as the man of the apes isn’t exactly a character that’s particularly fleshed. But filling the role with rippling pecs and that particular edge, it’s a role that appears right. As the character progresses from Victorian Lord to an untamed beast, the character blatantly loses all restraints as moments seen as Lord Greystoke can appear lifeless and almost po-faced, with the twinkling companionship of fiery ingenue Jane are sparse moments of alleviated romance that, at times, feels like a glorified ad for a Dior perfume campaign. Robbie unashamedly is the beaconed damsel in distress as much as she fights and claws, she spends the majority of the film in the clutches of someone. Still, she looks great.
The timeline is scattered with flashbacks to shed light on the origin story but it breaks the action and melodramatic turn of events into a well-balanced splash of good ol’ blockbuster fun. However, it wouldn’t be complete without the perfectly-timed comedic lashings of Sam L. Jackson now, would it? Somehow he finds himself caught up with almost every character in this epic, but when we find ourselves witnessing him screaming bloody murder as he’s firing up a machine gun, all odds are off and it’s about time we realise that an overly-critical analysis is beyond comprehension.
The Legend of Tarzan isn’t perfect, but it’s sheer escapism cinema that invigorates the state that is the name. It might not be the Tarzan we’ve all come to love in the past, but Yates undoubtedly makes it his own.
Dir: David Yates
Scr: Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer
Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Honsou
Prd: David Barron, Tony Ludwig, Alan Riche, Jerry Weintraub
Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams
DOP: Henry Braham
Runtime: 110 minutes