The Legend of Tarzan

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There have been lots of versions of Tarzan. I’m not familiar with most. When I read the biography of Lana Turner, I found out she was married to an Olympian who played the ape man (Johnny Weismuller). There was a version in the mid-80s that I only got through half of when it was on HBO (it starred Christopher Lambert). I didn’t even know Bo Derek did a version of the story until somebody asked me how I thought Margot Robbie compared to her. Well…Robbie is a thousand times prettier. Watching her on screen made me think…she might be the sexiest actress working today (the trailer beforehand showed her in the Suicide Squad, so you’re going to be seeing a lot of her this year).

What’s interesting about deciding to do Tarzan again, is the same thing I thought about with The Lone Ranger. In this day and age…is this generation really that interested in these old stories? These stories used to keep audiences captivated by the huge radio in the living room that the family would gather around to listen. This was before there were video games, TV, etc.

This version of Tarzan (and more to follow if it’s a success), has Tarzan (a buffed up Alexander Skarsgard), living in the massive Greystoke estate. He’s going by the name John Clayton III, and has an ideal life with Jane. But when bad guy played by Christoph Waltz pulls some strings and gets him returning to the Congo — that’s when a new adventure begins. The film cleverly shows us flashbacks, so we know how Tarzan was raised among the apes.

Directed by David Yates (best known for his work on the Harry Potter films), working on a script by Craig Brewer, who wrote the impressive Hustle & Flow, and the underrated Black Snake Moan. Black Snake Moan star Samuel Jackson plays George Washington Williams, a character here that asks Tarzan if he can tag along to the Congo, because he suspects there’s some slavery involved.

One problem is that Williams is a real life character (albeit not very well known). Putting him in this fictional story, makes it feel a bit like Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer. This will surely be another reason for Spike Lee to freak out on Jackson again (he hates his dialogue in Tarantino flicks). In real life, Williams was a Union Civil War soldier at 14, an author, activist, pastor, and important part of the history of blacks. Once Tarzan reluctantly agrees to let Williams tag along, the movie becomes a buddy cop flick, with Williams being an out-of-shape gunslinger. He’s like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon. He’s too old for all this shi…er…shenanigans. He’s out of breath, has trouble keeping up, but when he needs to be good with a gun — he is. Tarzan is the long-haired Mel Gibson character. He’s reckless and seems suicidal, as he jumps off cliffs, assuming there will be a vine to grab or a soft tree to land on.

There are some dull moments in the two hour movie, but only a small part of that is Yates’ fault. It’s mostly a convoluted script that’s all over the place. It doesn’t help that we had much more interesting CGI animals and a similar story with The Jungle Book a few months ago. At one point, my girlfriend leaned in and said, “There’s just too much CGI. I’m sick of it.”

And certainly the 3D IMAX didn’t add anything that spectacular. You should be dazzled as Tarzan swings through the trees, but you’re not. There was more excitement when I was a 13-year-old playing “Pitfall” on Atari.

I’m the worst at noticing continuity errors on film, but I do get hung up on the language of the time. One of the many frustrating things about Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, is how often they speak in jargon that wasn’t around in that time period [side note: two Tarantino regulars are in this, at one point even sounding like dialogue from Pulp Fiction as Jackson is told eating cooked ants tastes like bacon, to which he responds, “Snake’s good meat. I ain’t eating no damn ant.”]. In this movie, Samuel Jackson says, “You say tomato,” in a disagreement with Tarzan. I’m guessing that phrase wasn’t around in the late 1800s. There’s another point where a gorilla stands over him and he asks Tarzan, “Am I supposed to lick his nuts?!”

Not sure if the slang “nuts” was around back then.

One of the weirder moments comes when Jane is tied up and Waltz asks her to scream. She says, “Like a damsel?”

Uh…shouldn’t that be “like a damsel in distress”?

The movie was entertaining enough, but at a budget of around $180 million, I don’t think things look promising for this film.

Filmmakers need to stop relying on CGI, as well as on reboots and remakes. And Christoph Waltz, one very talented actor, needs to stop playing villains. At one point in this, I thought his mustache was going to start twirling.

2 stars out of 5.