Review: The Legend of Tarzan

2016’s reincarnation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ character Tarzan has been undertaken by David Yates, best known as the director of 4 films within the Harry Potter series. The Legend of Tarzan’s story takes place after Tarzan, now ‘John Clayton’, has long since returned to England and settled with his wife Jane.

American civil war veteran, George Washington Williams, based on a real person and played by Samuel L. Jackson, convinces Clayton (Alexander Skarsgård) to make the journey to his homeland of the African Congo, now ruled by the Belgians.  He suspects that the Belgians may be exploiting the area and orchestrating trade in slaves.  Once Clayton arrives in the Congo, with Williams and Jane in tow, it quickly becomes clear that they have been set up by Belgian emissary, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz).

Rom appears very much as a villain to be feared and has a strong screen presence, most apparent in his scenes with Margot Robbie.  They effectively build the growing feeling of threat and a concern that Tarzan may not succeed against his capable enemy.  The plot-line is not necessarily what the audience would have expected, with the original stories and previous dramatisations in mind.  It ties in with historical events and injustices and it was easy to believe that characters such as Rom bear heavy similarities to those involved in colonial expeditions and exploitation, perhaps thanks largely to the acting prowess of Waltz.

Sadly, the film slips into the cliché of having to save the ‘damsel in distress’…

Tarzan’s past is told during the film through various flashbacks, evoking the sharp contrast to the younger ape-like Tarzan against the refined, almost restrained, man he has become.  As soon as he returns to Africa it is almost as if he reverts to being that ape-like man.  David Yates has managed to create a Tarzan that represents a bridge between nature and civilization, embodied by his physicality and his talents of communication with the animals and tribal communities. This also translates in to his awareness of a sense of inequality in the colonial world and the need for justice.

Sadly, the film slips into the cliché of having to save the ‘damsel in distress’ when Jane is quickly endangered.  The plot seems to lose focus on the issue of the enslaved Congolese people and instead becomes consumed with the efforts of a heroic Tarzan trying to save his lover, with Williams as his comedic companion.

Margot Robbie awaits rescue as Jane…

While it becomes a story of a ‘damsel in distress’ it can at least be said that Margot Robbie manages to portray a slightly feisty damsel, fuelled by confidence that her husband will save her and free the slaves. That aspect does however cause a slight discomfort, due to the endorsement of the idea of the ‘white saviour’.  However, considering the nature of the original story and the era it is set in, it is difficult for filmmakers to avoid or conceal these stereotypes.  In fact arguably it gives the film a political edge, raising questions of morality in society at Burroughs’ time, it indirectly invites the viewer to compare those issues to ones in the present day.

The scenes in which Tarzan encounters his ape family in the depths of the jungle create an immense tension.

In comparison to this year’s earlier release of The Jungle Book, it seemed to lack the same visual quality and character performance.  However, the scenes in which Tarzan encounters his ape family in the depths of the jungle create an immense tension, as the viewer anxiously waits to see whether they will accept him after his long absence.  The character of Tarzan seemed somewhat lacklustre, he was stoic in nature but this was mismatched with a shortage of emotional depth.  Throughout all the action scenes he remains calm and collected, despite the havoc taking place around him.

This reincarnation of Tarzan may not have been the anticipated success its creators hoped for but it’s not entirely without merit, it does capture a feeling of adventure through Tarzan’s physical exploits and mission he embarks upon to end the suffering of his people.

By Amelia Conway

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