There are many great things about this film. The critics are polarized, but audiences love it. The reasons for this don't reflect well upon the critics.
We have the most accurate portrayal of Tarzan as conceived by Edgar Rice Burroughs in the history of film, but most critics seem offended by the character himself. Many are hung up on the "white savior" trope, but that's not really what's going on here. Others object to the backdrop of King Leopold's Congo, stating that it's too serious a matter for an action adventure flick. I suspect that most had no idea of the atrocities perpetrated in the Congo at the turn of the last century, but thanks to Google and this film, they've been educated - if only to snidely assume intellectual superiority. If seeing this film leads anyone to reading "King Leopold's Ghost" that's accomplishing more than most movies ever do.
This is a love story. The story of a married couple, and what they must go through in order to become re-united. There is moral complexity to the character of Tarzan and his conflicts with others, all wrapped in a message of respect for the natural world and all who live within it - man and beast. There is respect for the people of Africa, and avowal of human rights for all indigenous people.
This was everything I've ever wanted from a Tarzan film. Tarzan has always been one of my very favorite stories. It was my favorite Disney film and that lead me to reading the original works. The books are...very much a product of their times. They give a very pro-imperialism message while giving one of the more racist portrayals of native Africans that I've been unfortunate enough to read. They also had a fundamental lack of understanding of life in the jungle, up to and including what animals actually lived there. Jane Porter is little more than a pretty bauble to be obtained, spending most of the narrative whining, fearful, and wanting to go home. She is very fickle in her emotions and spends the story being guided by the two male entities in her life. I tell you these things because when I say that this film fixed everything that had been wrong with the original Tarzan stories, I want you to understand what that means.
From this point on, there will be spoilers.
Tarzan, as it originally was told, can very much be seen as a Man vs Nature story, with Man very clearly coming out on top. Tarzan's good breeding wins out over nature, leading him not only to enjoy bathing with no guidance, but also to teach himself to read, walk upright, and enjoy living in a house, all without any human guidance at all. This film could be seen as a bit of the opposite. It tells a story of Man vs Nature, where Nature, invariably, wins out. It begins with Tarzan in England as Lord Greystoke, as he was always meant to be. But it is very clear that his past still plays a major role in his current life, despite his apparent efforts to rise above it. The film sees Tarzan gradually shedding his civilized clothes, manners, and tendencies, in favor of his more wild instincts, in direct contrast to the original story. The climax itself features the animals of the jungle laying waste to a foothold of civilization on their shores.
Here we also saw an updated, and much more sympathetic and realistic view of the natives that, in the novel, were among Tarzan's chief antagonists. Here they are not just friends, but family. They are human, where in the novel they are almost demon like in their aggression and their cannibalism. In the film, they are both allies and antagonists, taking human shapes and showing both growth and understanding over the course of the story. It is their plight which forms the backbone of this film, which could have so easily been a simple story of Tarzan off to rescue Jane. This film, contradicting the book once more, paints a very anti-imperialist picture, going so far as to pull a page from Conrad's symbolism in Heart of Darkness. Our villain dresses all in white, and he ropes those he would take down with a symbol of his religion, a rosary.
But about Jane...As I've said, in the novel she is not much. She is something for Tarzan to want, a symbol of his humanity so much greater than any title or suit of clothes could be. But in the film, she is no longer a damsel in distress. It is perhaps a bit on the nose when she questions her own damsel status, but I honestly didn't mind. She does not scream. She spits in the face of her captor. She runs for her life. She risks life and limb. Gone is her origin as a simple shipwrecked woman, now she is a missionary, who grew up in Africa and views it as home. She was as much in need of an update as the natives and, thankfully, she got one.
But I think what I loved most about this film is that it was not yet another origin story. It actually covers topics that span several of the original books, dropping us right into the middle of the story and only showing us Tarzan's origin in brief flashbacks, which is as it should be. Tarzan is a household name, we do not need to see that story. As an audience we want something new, and they have given us that. There is no pandering to the common audience. I was prepared for them to spend a great deal of time showing us our buff leading man in strategic poses, but they were few and far between. This felt like an intelligent story, told by someone who appreciated the source material and understood the purpose of the characters. They managed to tell us a story worthy of the original Tarzan, changing what needed to be changed without losing the heart of the main character.
This was a lovely film. I believe it will go down as one of my favorites.
I just experienced The Legend of Tarzan Movie, and in the immortal words of the Countess Olga de Coude "Magnifique!" is the only thing that I can think. The previews for other movies ended and the opening of this long awaited Tarzan began.
I sat in rapture as Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan came to life in front of my eyes. Yes, It IS ERB's Tarzan. There are liberties that Mr. Yates took with the characters and locations, but all in all, THIS IS TARZAN as he was meant to be. Quiet, Strong, Passionate, steely eyed... "Magnifique!"
The Mangani are Mangani. They are not chimps nor gorillas. They are huge, magnificent beasts. Were Mr. Burroughs alive today, I wholeheartedly believe that he would jump up and down like a young child shouting "YES! YES! That's them!"
Kala is every child's mother, protective and loving. The relationship between Tarzan and her is perfectly portrayed. The love Tarzan feels for his ape mother is passed on to the movie viewer to be felt, not just seen.
The panoramic views of the jungle are even as ERB described them to be. Dark, foreboding, beautiful and deadly. It is the jungle of Tarzan.
This is not an action movie in the vein of Captain America or any of the modern action movies. It is a story. A very well told story of adventure driven by the love of a man for his mate. Is there action? Of course there is action. It wouldn't be Tarzan without action. But first and foremost, it is a very well written and delivered story. It is a story that Edgar Rice Burroughs himself would have told. He would be proud and finally relieved that his creation had finally come to life in a manner that does justice to his creative genius.
I sat through the movie mesmerized. Spellbound. It ended just like it should, you won't be disappointed.
As the credits began to roll, I quietly stood up, still in a mostly empty theater, and walked out to my awaiting truck to drive home and write this review.
If people listen to the critics who did not like this movie, they will be missing out.
For those of us who love the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, GO Watch The Legend of Tarzan MOVIE!
I wish I could say more, there is so much to say. I'll end this with this. I'll watch it again, and again and when it comes out on dvd, I'll own it and watch it till I have seen it as many times as I have read the books, which is really saying something.
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The Legend of Tarzan is the biggest surprise of the summer. Alexander Skarsgard is a very reserved Tarzan. His performance builds and gets stronger as the movie progresses, much like David Yates direction on the film. It gets better and better as the film goes on. Samuel L. Jackson is a standout in a supporting […]
The Legend of Tarzan has a whole lot of fun, big-screen things going for it – adventure, romance, natural landscapes, digital animals and oceans of rippling handsome man-muscle. Its sweep and easy pleasures come from its old-fashioned escapades – it’s one long dash through the jungle by foot, train, boat and swinging vine – but […]