If I’m being completely honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I saw The Legend of Tarzan on opening day. I didn’t know if the CGI would be cheesy, if Alexander Skarsgård was the right choice for the lead role, if they would put Edgar Rice Burroughs’ beloved book through a wood chipper, or if Margot Robbie would get along well with the phrase “period piece.”
What I didn’t expect the most was to walk away from the film completely satisfied that I’d seen the best action movie to come along in a while. Considering that everyone clapped in our theater at the end of the movie, I don’t suppose I’m the only one to feel that way.
As suggested by the title, The Legend of Tarzan brings the legendary man to life on the big screen, allowing Tarzan the medium he needed for a movie this adventurous and daring while having the technology to accomplish everything it sets out to do. The movie opens with Christoph Waltz as the evil Leon Rom making a deal with a tribe in the Congo: diamonds in exchange for Tarzan. The film skips along to an adult Tarzan, married to Jane (Margot Robbie) and living in Victorian England. He seems to have adjusted well from his vine-swinging days and prefers to be called by his true name, John Clayton III. He returns back to the Congo with Jane and George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) to investigate reports of slavery amongst the mining encampments and has to overcome his newest enemy along the way.
I was surprised at the film starting with an adult Tarzan, as I looked forward to his childhood with Kala, his gorilla mother, as well as his struggles growing up into a man in that environment; however, the movie incorporates flashbacks of his childhood, starting with the death of his human mother and father all the way into adulthood, which worked very well for the film. It kept the action and danger from present events ever on the mind of the viewer while giving glimpses of his past, enough to relay what happened to him during his time in the jungle
Alexander Skarsgård, who I only knew from his role as an amoral vampire in True Blood, was hands-down the best choice for the lead character in Tarzan. He was more than believable as the character, especially when he shifted from the proper John Clayton into the wild Tarzan. His actions, his emotions, even his dialogue were portrayed so perfectly that I cannot imagine another actor in the role.
Margot Robbie delivered a decent Jane – a bit feisty and independent, probably the only woman that Tarzan would like. I did feel she was a bit wrong for the time period, but it was forgivable as she played so well against Skarsgård’s Tarzan. The rest of the casting was brilliant, as well. Samuel L. Jackson’s laid-back humor fit in well, as did Christoph Waltz as the villain Rom. The actors who played young Tarzan (Rory J. Saper and Christian Stevens) were wonderful additions to the film, allowing for Tarzan to be aged without missing a beat.
The setting of the movie was absolutely beautiful and rich, taking the viewer directly to both England and the Congo during that time period. The CGI was not cheesy in the least, as I thought it might be; instead, it seamlessly worked with the live actors. The eyes of all of the animals were so lifelike and wrought with emotion that I didn’t once think “CGI” during the film.
As far as Edgar Rice Burroughs and the original Tarzan of the Apes, again, I was pleasantly surprised. While there were a few minor variations, it held up well. Hopefully, the movie will reignite interest in the classic novels, as well as a newfound respect for Tarzan.
I believe my new love affair with Tarzan began while watching the movie. It is this viewer’s hope that they open up the legend for more adventures, possibly from his childhood as well. There are endless Tarzan tales to be had, and now we have the perfect combination of actors, writing, directing, and producing to deliver them to audiences.