“The Legend of Tarzan” (2016)

Running Time: 109 minutes

Director: David Yates

Featuring: Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Honsou, Jim Broadbent

Jane: He is no normal man. He was thought to be an evil spirit, a ghost in the trees. No man has ever started with less.

Back in the day TVNZ used to re-run all the old Tarzan movies so I grew up on Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe as the man lost in the African jungles as well as being raised by apes, he always had his trusty sidekick, Cheetah, the chimp along for the ride. That was probably my first exposure to a “super-hero”, although I probably did not realize it at the time. In fact he may well have been one of the very first internationally recognized super-heroes.

My other Tarzan memory is the Hugh Hudson film “Greystoke: The legend of Tarzan” (1984), with a very young, and miscast Andie MacDowell, and a cool Christopher Lambert. Upon seeing it and revisiting it some time later I did enjoy it just for the differences from the very early. Of course there have been other incarnations, comedy vehicles and animated adventures and the odd sexualized version, see “Tarzan, the Ape Man” (1981), that was a particularly terrible version, thank you John and Bo Derek.

Now comes frequent and successful Harry Potter director David Yates and the latest version of the Edgar Rice Burroughs jungle hero, with a very English touch.

This story is a little messy, and is strung together in an awkward way, but the personalities of the actors pulls us through the story, with Skarsgård and Robie, stand outs as Tarzan and Jane. They both play their characters straight, with Jane knowing who her husband is, as well as making us believe she may be his equal, and, not the timid damsel in distress. Samuel L. Jackson makes an appearance as a kind of US agent on the lookout for slavery and crooked dealings, but becomes smitten with Tarzan, and even confesses to helping wipe out the Native American culture back home. He is on some kind of quest of redemption that is not fully realized as part of the narrative. And perhaps not for the first time Christoph Waltz plays an actual moustache-twirling villain.

As mentioned, this film is a little messy and I can not help but think there was a better version somewhere else, but the location shooting looks great which only magnifies the obviously fake sets that are used, particularly the set involving the under served Djimon Honsou. The apes themselves look good, and have to after the recent “Jungle Book” (2016) proved you can create believable looking CGI animals.

To me, the stand out scene involves Jane on the run stumbling into a band of gorillas, who then behaves just as she should, the scene itself is the best looking of the film, and the physical acting involved makes me understand why Robie is one of the most in demand actors around, and delivers a silent beautiful performance in front of two groups that could easily snuff her out.

This film is recommended for people who want to see a different kind of blockbuster, and although reviews may be unkind I had a good time with this movie and the characters, both familiar and new in this romp that proves the character of Tarzan is timeless.


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