Movie Review: The Legend of Tarzan

4 Jul

The_Legend_of_Tarzan_posterI’m to the point now where I rarely, if ever, read any reviews prior to seeing a movie. I watch the trailer and if it grabs me, I’ll go see the movie. And, boy, did the Legend of Tarzan trailer grab me! I had no idea there was a new Tarzan movie being made so the trailer was a happy surprise. But a lot of times, trailers stuff all the best parts into the previews and leave nothing for the movie. Would LoT suffer the same fate?

No! Absolutely not! If you love Tarzan, if you love adventure movies, this is a great film. Highly entertaining with many sequences that had me smiling and all but cheering out loud.

Legends of Tarzan starts with a decision that was probably the best decision possible: make this movie NOT be the origin. When the film opens, John Clayton III is already back in London, in the House of Lords. He’s married to Jane Porter and they are living their lives happily. His days as Tarzan are legend. Those stories are already printed in dime novels of the day. Now, scattered throughout the movie are flashbacks to Tarzan’s origin. And they worked well to educate those who may not know Tarzan’s story—who, exactly, is this?—and to flesh out this story’s through line. I suppose some folks in this century might not know Tarzan, but they will be fully up-to-date after LoT.

The story kicks off with an invitation from the King of Belgium for Lord Greystoke to travel to the Congo and tour the new schools and such. Unbeknownst to John Clayton is that this plan is really an elaborate ruse by Leon Rom, played by Christopher Waltz, to lure Tarzan down to the Congo to capture him and deliver him to Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou). Mbonga, you see, has his eye on vengeance because Tarzan killed Mbenga’s son. Reluctantly, Tarzan agrees to the trip and is accompanied not only by Jane (Margot Robbie) but Samuel Jackson, playing Dr. George Washington Williams. Now, Jackson was nowhere in the trailers so he was a complete surprise to me. He brought the comedic relief. He also served as a surrogate audience member not familiar with all that Tarzan can do. He performed his task just like you’d expect Samuel Jackson to do. After all, in 2016, Jackson only play one character: “Samuel Jackson.” If you like that, you’ll be fine with him. If you don’t, he’ll be annoying. I’ll admit I was initially jarred when I realized Jackson wasn’t just in a cameo, but I like him so I went with it.

If you have read any of the books—I’ve only read the first three—or seen any of the movies, you know what’s going to happen so there’s little use in relating it here. Jane gets herself captured and Tarzan must rescue her. Heck, even the trailer has Christopher Waltz deliver a standout line: “He’s Tarzan. You’re Jane. He will come.” In order to do that, Tarzan and his growing team of allies, both animal and human, traverse through the jungle where Tarzan meets up with old friends and enemies. It is in these scenes where modern technology has finally allowed you to see the images in your head when you read the books. The gorillas are HUGE and vicious. The elephants even huger but graceful. And the jungle environs are exactly what I wanted to see.

An interesting note to the characters of Jackson and Waltz. Both don’t know what Tarzan can do so each comment—almost meta-comment—on what’s happening. It’s humorous and it didn’t take me out of the film. But I can see where some might find that irritating. No one in the theater yesterday minded a bit. We laughed at the funny spots and a few folks clapped when the movie was over.

Alexander Skarsgård is new to me. I never watched True Blood so, for me, he was Tarzan. He did such a great job showing you how difficult it was for John Clayton to hold back his savage upbringing in London. Even in Africa, when the chase is on, initially, he is still reticent. But when Jane is taken, boy, hold onto your hats. Even Jane tells Waltz basically “You have no idea what’s in store for you.” She says it with such honesty that it comes across not as bragging but as a certainty.

There are so many great sequences in this film that to tell but a few would spoil it for y’all. The stampede in the trailer is exactly what you think it is and it hearkens back to The Beasts of Tarzan where he can talk to the animals. Waltz’s little accouterment is interesting and I’d like someone more versed in the lore to let me know if it’s from the books or made up for the movie. Either way, I thought it pretty nifty. The soundtrack by Rupert Gregson-Williams is pretty good at mixing African beats and sounds with traditional orchestral music. In many scenes, with the vista of Africa on the screen, the music swirled to match.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, whether he was writing Tarzan, John Carter, Caron of Venus, or who knows what else, often had a standard plot formula: girl gets kidnapped and guy must rescue her. It’s old fashioned, but it’s also pure. You don’t need anything else. You don’t need angst. You only need love. Love drives the character to great feats of daring-do to save the one he loves. It has it slow moments, but that’s only to let you catch your breath before the next action sequence. It is a modern pulp adventure movie with all the trappings of modern movie making behind it.

If you love that kind of movie, you will love this movie.

I do, and I did.

It hit every beat I want to see, that I expected to see, but did so in such a way as to be greater than the sum of its parts. This is a fantastic summer movie that I will be adding to my DVD collection later this year.

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