Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

Full disclosure, readers: I can, and will, swoon with the best of them at the mere sight of a bare-chested Alexander Skarsgaard. But I’d prefer you try to read this review without the type of cynicism that involves raising one of your eyebrows to such an extent that it disappears into your hairline.

Right. Good. Let’s begin, shall we?

Against all odds – including a pretty stinking percentage on the ol’ Tomatometer, the ominous and potentially inescapable thematic spectre of white supremacy, and the likelihood of having to endure cringe-worthy damsel-in-distress situations – I actually thoroughly enjoyed this film.As far as Hollywood summer-blockbusters go, The Legend of Tarzan is utterly and beautifully bizarre. In fact, its saving grace is that it’s consistently bizarre, and given we have entered the Era of Marvel Ubiquity, it’s also refreshingly bizarre. Tarzan nuzzles lionesses, engages in some form of CGI-laden WWE with giant apes, and climbs curtains Cirque du Soleil-style in his London mansion. The production design adds a bit of ‘hipness’ to the turn-of-the-century décor and the scenes set on sweeping African plains are so saturated in gold, you have to double-check that your screen hasn’t succumbed to the powers of your Flux app. There’s also some stunning river sequences reminiscent of (or at least inspired by) Werner Herzog’s surreal Aguirre: Wrath of God. Or maybe I just ‘nerded out’ and read too much into it.

Director David Yates puts aside Harry Potter films 5-8 + Prequel for a moment, and tries his hand at bringing the traditionally loin-clothed Edgar Rice Burroughs character’s story to the big screen for a modern audience with an old-school-epic-action-adventure twist. Phew.

The dastardly Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) seeks to capture John Clayton III aka Lord Greystoke aka Tarzan (aka Skarsgaard) for a Congo Chief (Djimon Honsou) in exchange for securing some diamonds for King Leopold II of Belgium. Cut to Tarzan being summoned to the African continent (accompanied by his determined wife, Jane, played by Margot Robbie). While we’re here, for some added tension – Rom throws a random village pillage and the slave trade into the mix, and spices it up a bit by kidnapping Jane and using her as Tarzan-bait (basically because Rom was kind of failing at his one job before he decided to change tack).

A game of cat and mouse ensues. Jane is the type of female lead that is about as far from the recent Batman vs Superman’s Lois Lane as you can get. Sure, she loves her husband to bits, but she’s resourceful, intelligent and more than capable of looking after herself and her fellow captives. If you weren’t already aware, Tarzan and Jane are essentially the ‘Dream Team’ – they treasure the gifts of the wilderness and realise this fight with Rom and his cronies is much bigger than themselves. #thegreatergood

Apart from his obvious physical attributes, Alexander Skarsgaard has frequently demonstrated his dramatic acting chops in HBO’s Generation Kill and What Maisie Knew (If you haven’t seen them – what are you waiting for?). Christoph Waltz plays just about what you’ve come to expect a Christoph Waltz villain to be: creepy-sinister, somewhat camp, and sporadically menacing. Ostensibly benign weapon of weird tarantula-spun rosary beads, included.

All’s well that ends well, as Tarzan’s iconic yodel gets a well-earned, if minimal guernsey and the angsty Groban-esque tones of Hozier’s ‘Better Love’ over the credits adds to this bizarre romp.


Alternative plot: A legendary Australian TAZO collector petitions for a new series of the kids’ collectible to feature holographic images only of Zan from the television series, Smallville.


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