One thing to keep in mind about the Legend of Tarzan is that Alexander Skarsgard doesn’t spend nearly as much time with his shirt off as one would expect. But when he does, it’s good, oh so good. Not being familiar with the many films interpreting Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic story of the man raised by apes, I expected to see the well-formed Skarsgard in just a loincloth for most of the film. Instead, we are treated with a well-developed story, flashing between the present and the past, captivating the audience for its 109-minute duration.
The theme running throughout the film is the dichotomy between the wild and the civilized. This theme is carried out in the story as well as through the breathtaking cinematography. The film features striking scenes of the vast, lush rainforest in Gabon, which are then contrasted to a grey and dreary England. It’s no wonder Tarzan and Jane love the Congo so much. The drama in the film is artfully quieted by the storytelling, which gently moves the film along. The film is set in the 1880s, and the present-day story gives us a stoic Tarzan, skillfully acted by Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood), fully integrated into English society, and known as John Clayton, Lord Greystoke. The only hint of the wild man inside can fleetingly be caught in his eyes, bearing an intense and unflinching animal-like gaze. Jane, is brought to life by Margot Robbie (Wolf of Wall Street, Suicide Squad), in fierce form, as an independent and strong-willed woman. The flashbacks provide the audience with a deeper understanding of the characters overall, Tarzan’s youth, and his love and respect for the animals that he grew up with. The audience also learns about Tarzan and Jane’s love story, and why their passion lies with the Congo. In the end, Tarzan and Jane both end up fighting to save their true home, each in their own separate and individual ways.
Of particular note is Samuel L. Jackson’s (Captain America: Civil War, The Hateful Eight) portrayal of George Washington Williams, an American diplomat. Williams aims to stop the colonization of the Congo by Belgium’s King Leopold II. The sidekick to our hero, Williams helps to fight the enslavement and exploitation of the tribal Africans, all while delivering the comic relief that is sometimes needed for the emotionally weighty scenes.
The late Jerry Weintraub (The Karate Kid, Ocean’s Eleven) served as producer for the film, and sadly did not get to see the final version. It is perhaps safe to say that he wouldn’t be disappointed…