Movie Review: The Legend of Tarzan
Let's get this out right now. The critics are wrong! OK with that out of the way here's my thoughts on The Legend of Tarzan. Spoilers to follow so if you have not seen it yet approach with caution.
A brief text piece starts the film that sets up the film's historical background (King Leopold of Belgium and his "Congo Free State") before introducing us to Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), the man in charge of leading Leopold's plans for Africa. Rom leads a safari to the diamond mines of Opar and a deal with its king Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) is struck-diamonds to support Leopold's goals in exchange for one man-Tarzan aka John Clayton III (Alexander Skarsgard). Pressured by his majesty's envoys, Clayton agrees to go, taking with him Dr. George Washington Williams (Samuel L, Jackson) and his beloved wife Jane (Margot Robbie). Before too long though Jane is captured and Tarzan pursues her while coming to terms with his past and the animal within.
Going into the film I tried to shut out the negative responses, naysayers and those who feel that Tarzan is an antiquated character and I am glad I did. In fact I'll say it right now, The Legend of Tarzan might be the best Tarzan film ever. It is certainly the most faithful to the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, from flashbacks to Tarzan's past, making Jane a feisty American and even including references to characters like Mbonga and Muviro from the books. Director David Yates manages to keep things moving at a smooth pace, even when cutting to the past, delivering a surprisingly simple story that makes sense, something to be valued in this day and age of convoluted plot devices and character arcs that make little sense (looking at you Batman, Superman and Captain America).
Yates also gets good performances out of his leads, with the big winner being Robbie, who brings smarts and charm to Jane Porter. She's also not a clueless damsel, as the character has been portrayed but a woman familiar with the jungle and a deep love for her husband. It also doesn't hurt that she's drop dead gorgeous. For his part Skarsgard is more physical in his performance, even though he handles the dialogue well and brings humanity to the character. Jackson has some great one-liners, even though if there is a nitpick, its that Waltz is somewhat underused as the bad guy. Or maybe it's just his scheme is somewhat familiar (or considering the real life Leon Rom was the reported influence of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, something more sinister or even crazy might have been welcome).
As a Burroughs fan I guess I could nitpick some of the changes-like the fact that Mbonga's tribe is living in Opar, a reference to losing a child by John and Jane and some of Jane's backstory-but otherwise it's close to the characters and is reminiscent of plot and drive of The Beasts of Tarzan (with Tarzan having to rediscover his wild side). There are references to even past film versions (the best is Jackson doing his own spin on "Me Tarzan, You Jane").
Sure it has flaws but in the end the movie kept me entertained and that was all I wanted. Burroughs fans and just regular film goers will I think enjoy this. So ignore the negative press and go see it. Rating: **** out of 4.