The Legend of Tarzan

July 4, 2016 at 5:44 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ½

In any discussion about the character of Tarzan, we must start with a basic conceit: he can talk to animals. He is a grown-up’s Dr. Doolittle. This is silly and inexplicable but it is Tarzan. If you cannot accept that going in, then this is not the film for you. We must also acknowledge an inherent colonialism at the heart of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s story of the aristocratic white boy who tames the dark continent. To that end, this film tries hard to shed as much of that difficult history as possible. Here, the white people and their colonial tendencies are the true villains and the Africans are unflinchingly noble and honorable. Samuel L. Jackson plays George Washington Williams, a real former Civil War soldier who traveled to The Congo in 1890 and wrote the letter heard at the end of the film. Though it was a stretch to include him in a Tarzan story, it seems to serve to temper the implications of the white man coming to save the day. The script even attempts to deal with how savagely gorillas were described in Burroughs’s work (contrary to their true nature) by inventing another species of ape that looks exactly like gorillas but act like Burroughs’s fantasy. All of this I can accept as part of the job of bringing a story like this to a modern audience. And I understand why they wanted to make this movie now. With the current level of CGI, animals and landscapes can be rendered almost believably and, as a result, we can get a visually realized Tarzan in a way you could not have dreamed of even 10 years ago. And this film is stunning; the landscape is breathtaking in scene after scene. It struck me as remarkably like the recent “The Jungle Book,” only intently serious. Where “The Jungle Book”‘s dialogue was light and playful, this dialogue was painfully weighty, making how bad it was all the more obvious. Characters all sounded like they were plucked from the 21st century, using modern colloquialisms and expressing modern sentiments. I found that dialogue (and Alexander Skarsgård’s fluctuating British accent) to be quite distracting. However, that isn’t why we go to see a Tarzan movie and, in fact, I think the audience gets what it came for. We get our daring hero, our captured heroine, our creepy-fun villain, lots of action and lots and lots of animals. This film is a romp and nothing more, just like the classic Tarzan films were, just with cooler animals.


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