Friday, July 1, 2016

There is not much to yell about regarding ‘The Legend of Tarzan’

By Steve Crum
Including the Disney animated versions, The Legend of Tarzan marks the 38th Tarzan feature I have seen. (Thank you, author Edgar Rice Burroughs.) And that includes Elmo Lincoln’s second Tarzan take in the silent version of 1921, The Adventures of Tarzan. (I would show that as part of the Hollywood film history unit I taught.) Tarzan during my 1950’s youth was portrayed by Lex Barker, and I thrilled to all five Barkers during his treetop tenure. Other fav Tarzans include Johnny Weissmuller (of course), Gordon Scott and Jock Mahoney. As for the current vine swinger in this 49th official Tarzan feature, Alexander Skarsgård ranks a tad above average….which is better than the overall film.
Do not expect any slapstick inclusions of a cute, goofy chimpanzee sidekick—Cheetah or otherwise—like the Weissmuller Tarzan films introduced.  Neither look for Tarzan and Jane living in the splendor of a large jungle treehouse. The Legend of Tarzan is pretty much grim and gritty stuff. Those elements are intensified once Jane is kidnapped, and Tarzan must rescue her. By the way, that plot line of Tarzan’s honey in peril is conflict central for at least half of all Tarzan movies. It is a stalwart plot device that seems to be a necessity.
This version is more bonded with 1984’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes—not only by title, but content. Tarzan’s civilized name was both headlined and expanded upon in both films. In The Legend of Tarzan, the backstory is also told of how baby John Clayton III is raised by apes after his parents are brutally murdered in the African jungle. Unlike the 1984 version, the story is related in flashback snippets. 
The child is lovingly raised and fiercely protected by his surrogate ape mother, and grows into a callous knuckled (he runs on all fours), long-haired hunk who resembles Fabio. But it is actually the Swedish actor Skarsgård, who plays the role humorlessly and with much stoicism—no doubt the way he was directed. There is very little to laugh about in this gritty, violent revenge movie, except a degree of humor supplied by Samuel L. Jackson as George Washington Williams, a U.S. Government emissary (via President Harrison) on board to accompany Mr. and Mrs. Clayton. The Claytons are on a trek to Africa representing the British Government in regard to trade negotiations. Margot Robbie is fine as Tarzan/John’s not so vulnerable wife, Jane. 
Let it be known at this abrupt break that Tarzan does not do the famous Tarzan yell, popularized by both Johnny Weissmuller and Carol Burnett. However, he does communicate with his animal friends, emitting a wail.
Tarzan’s heroic derring-do could only be accomplished with a formidable villain, and Christoph Waltz fills that description as the nefarious Belgian captain, Léon Rom. In his white suit and fedora, he seems very Nazi, even though the time period for this story is 1889. He is in Africa for diamonds, and capturing Tarzan plays into his scheme. 
A huge plus of The Legend of Tarzan is the gorgeous cinematography capturing the Congolese landscape. But wait, it is mostly digital effects, since England and Wales provide the only actual geography. It looks authentic, and fooled me.
For those seeing a live action Tarzan movie for the first time, The Legend of Tarzan should be a fun but slow moving 110 minutes. The infrequent action sequences are appreciated. It was directed by David Yates, responsible for the final four Harry Potter films. 
This is the second recent movie to deal with a human male being raised in the jungle by wild animals, the superior The Jungle Book being the other. 
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GRADE on an A-F Scale: C

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