Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Legend of Tarzan - Spoiler-free Review

Doug: I saw The Legend of Tarzan Friday afternoon and I liked it. I can't say that I loved it, but I liked it well enough. For all the problems with previous live-action Tarzan productions, this one played most closely to the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. We've gotten a Tarzan film that, in its first act, corrected what in my opinion was Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes's downfall -- the return to London. This Tarzan, impossible as it may be to suspend one's disbelief (and most likely why Greystoke's creators didn't go there), is fully comfortable in his skin as John Clayton III, the 6th Earl of Greystoke. For starters, that helped me settle in with the anticipation that I'd enjoy the rest of the movie.

Karen: My husband and I also saw this film Friday -- I have to admit, he wasn't really interested in it, but since I went with him to see Independence Day: Resurgence, he owed me. Like you, I liked this, didn't love it. It was entertaining but never quite reached the heights of adventure or fantasy I might have hoped for. I will add though that I am not the Tarzanophile that you are; I've read 2, maybe 3 Tarzan books and that was in my teens. So my knowledge and appreciation is limited. Still, I've always liked the character. Perhaps my favorite version was the 70s cartoon!

Doug: As we've probably documented around here at some point, I read about half the novels in my teens. I've re-read the first 5-6 as an adult. As a child I enjoyed the Johnny Weismuller and Buster Crabbe films, and of course the Ron Ely TV show. I missed out on the Kubert DC comics (although I've read quite a few recently), but was in on the ground floor of Marvel's version.

Doug: Here's a plot synopsis, in case you haven't gleaned as much information from the various trailers and clips available on the Web:
It's been nearly a decade since Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), also known as John Clayton III, left Africa to live in Victorian England with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). Danger lurks on the horizon as Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a treacherous envoy for King Leopold II of Belgium, devises a scheme that lures the couple to the Belgian Congo. Rom plans to capture Tarzan and deliver him to an old enemy in exchange for diamonds. When Jane becomes a pawn in his devious plot, Tarzan must return to the jungle to save the woman he loves.
Doug: I've seen many a'reviewer take issue with the racial issues involved in this story and its current depiction. I've seen people say they cannot believe that another Tarzan film is being made. Listen, I teach a course on human rights... in history. The people who would decry this film might be the same who would cheer the remake of Roots, or the recent film 12 Years a Slave. From the top, one thing I'd cheer is that all of the Black characters were actually played by Blacks. That may sound stupid, but it's progress for Hollywood. But anyway, I was happy to see this as a period piece, rooted in the years following the 1884 Berlin Peace Conference and the Age of Imperialism. God, Gold, and Glory, indeed -- all were fully on display in this film and the script writers didn't run from it. Uncomfortable? Sure. But you know what? When I prepare my students to see scenes from Schindler's List, I email their parents to inform them that their student is going to watch an R-rated film in my classroom. I close by saying, "...but then some have said the Holocaust was R-rated." The values of 2016 have certainly not always been the values of mankind. It should be OK to talk about that.

Karen: Before this film came out, I saw any number of articles about how awful it was that anyone was making a Tarzan film, and how Tarzan was inherently racist. While I understand people's concerns, I do wish they would watch something before they paint it with that brush. If anything, this film bends over backwards to undo the wrongs of past films. The African natives --Tarzan's friends -- are depicted as equal partners in his adventure. Their friends and family members have also been taken as slaves by the Belgians and they have a stake in what is going on. If anything, the characters (particularly Jane) probably come off a bit too modern, but I am sure this is a concession to today's audience, who seem unable (or unwilling) to relate to people of a time period other than their own. I also read some reviews that complained that the writers tried to integrate real world events into the story. I liked it. I thought it made for a meaningful situation. That said, some more fantasy elements would have gone a long way.  For me, Tarzan has always been about the dichotomy of the civilized man vs. the wild, natural man, and how that lives in all of us. There is that yearning to be free, to be a part of nature, that Tarzan represents. I'm sure others interpret it differently. 

Doug: I did not get the opportunity to see the recent remake of The Jungle Book, but I understand that the CGI animals were outstanding. I thought the animators did a great job here, but I read one reviewer say that Jungle Book's were better. In comparison to Greystoke, this was a huge step forward in terms of the great apes. Very lifelike. If I have a nitpick in regard to Tarzan's relationships to the animals, it's that there was not enough communication with the Apes -- really no acknowledgement that he was in the presence of "his" tribe -- and way too much Dr. Doolittle-like communication with other species. I can expound if and when we get to a fully-spoiled post.

Karen: I did see The Jungle Book, and I'd have to agree the animals in that film were outstanding. I was never taken out of the movie, despite them being talking animals. Here, there were times where the effects were a little obvious. But all in all, they weren't bad. I would agree with you that some of Tarzan's animal-influencing seems a bit contrived, especially towards the end of the film.

Doug: You know, as long as I'm on the subject of reviewers, I'll say this: I think that unless one is intimate with the source material, one should probably keep one's mouth shut. I have grown quite weary of "outsiders" telling me what makes a good movie about X (Tarzan, or any comic book adaptation, as examples). I say this in regard to Hollywood messing around with licensed properties and historical material -- with "based on a true story", Hollywood is compelled to give us more "based on" and less "true story", every time. They just know better, I guess (insert eyeroll emoji...).

Karen: I thought that Margot Robbie, while being a more modern Jane, was actually very winning and likable. Samuel Jackson was generally amusing. I'd like to see Christoph Waltz do something other than play the typical quietly threatening villain though -- that's getting a little old, and I felt he wasn't putting a lot of effort into it here. Finally, Alexander Skarsgard had a great look but was perhaps a tad too introverted in his portrayal -- I could appreciate that this was a more intelligent, reserved Tarzan, but he almost seemed to disappear at times.

Doug: We joked one time that Miles O'Keefe was perhaps the best-looking Tarzan ever to hit the silver screen, and maybe he was. But Alexander Skarsgard sure looked like the guy I saw in my mind when reading the novels (he could have used darker hair, though). Great size, and of course the muscle definition was right out of some bodybuilder magazine. I liked Margot Robbie's "tough" Jane.

Doug: I thought the film was decently-paced, maybe dragging just a bit in the last third of the picture. I got a little smile as that thought crossed my mind, though, as it occurred to me, "...just like one of Burroughs's novels."

Doug: Overall, this was a $6 matinee price well spent. I went by myself, as both of my sons are not in town presently. My wife offered to go, but this isn't even close to being in her wheelhouse. I actually did consider her offer, but then I thought of all the synopsizing I'd have to do to bring her up to speed, and what if the film depicted some things differently (they did), then it would be confusing, etc. I talked her out of going.

Karen: I feel sorry that she missed those spectacular abs!

Doug: So I'm not going to insert some crack about "Oh, but she does -- daily!". Oops -- just did.


Rip Jagger said...

I liked this one a lot. I was skeptical, especially given Samuel Jackson's presence. He's a dandy actor but seemed too broad for this story. He worked okay, but the rest of it was pretty much ideal for me. I concur with the comment that it worked to the novels and not to the films. Many reviewers I've encountered since seeing it only seem to know or reference screen Tarzans. I felt like I was watching the filming of an ERB novel I hadn't gotten around to reading yet. The structure was very much like a novel and the threat was very ERB-like. I found Christopher Walz really menacing and properly villainous, much better here than his wasted effort in the Bond movie some months ago. Robbie was beautiful and gave the film a light good-hearted feel and Skarsgarrd was visually almost ideal. I don't get that so much from the stills I've seen (the posters are dreadful) but when he moves on screen he's utterly convincing.

I've done a Spoiler-rich review at the Dojo, which can be found in the sidebar for those who care.

Rip Off

Edo Bosnar said...

Ooops. Didn't realize when commenting on yesterday's post that this one was actually going to be discussed here today.
Anyway, as I said there (among the many other things I said), I'm really looking forward to seeing this - it opens on the 7th over here - because it got the stamp of approval from some Tarzan fans who like the books, and think this is the closest any film adaptation has got to the original feel of the Burroughs novels. One thing I'll say just based on the trailers is that I like the fact that it is a period piece, set in the pre-World War I era, meaning about the time Burroughs set most of the early novels. That's really the only way to do it in my opinion.
And Karen, I've said it here several times before, but I loved the Filmation cartoon from the late '70s - I think it was actually a better adaptation of the character than any of the live action stuff that I've seen.

Redartz said...

Thanks for the walk-through on this film today, Karen and Doug! My wife wants to see it (she's no doubt looking forward to those abs, Karen- I'm probably a bit more flab than ab...). I'm not a big Tarzan buff, but will probably go along. From your descriptions, it sounds well worth a look.

Anonymous said...

Well, I won't be seeing this for a while, as there are no theatres near me, but I'm predisposed to like it. I read a review over at io9 which wasn't exactly stellar; the main complaint seemed to be that Tarzan is set up as being unbeatable, so there's no real tension to the story. But as you said, maybe this one is for fans of the books, in which case I should love it.

Mike Wilson

Martinex1 said...

Saw it today with my wife. I liked it. I'm not a Tarzan expert like some, but I enjoyed a number of scenes. I thought the action was fun and the animals did not distract me. Glad to see it is doing quite well and beating the Purge movie after all. As a side note Jungle Book was quite good; actually saw that twice with my boys. My wife loved that one but she also liked Tarzan.

Anonymous said...

Hmm spoiler alert myself - I haven't seen it yet. However, judging from all the early reviews, including this BAB one, it appears to hew closer to the novels than most earlier cinematic versions.

Personally, that's a plus in my book, even if the general viewing public might not agree with that. I've always said that books and films are two different mediums; after all, I'd bet Tolkien never imagined about stuff like movie rights and sequels when he wrote Lord of the Rings. Similarly, ERB probably never envisioned TV or movie versions of Tarzan when he wrote them. So, I'll look forward to seeing it with an open mind, even if the movie reflects all the inherent biases in the book which reflected society at that time.

- Mike 'me Tarzan, you ... Skarsgaard?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Allen said...

Saw this movie yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. I would have to echo the sentiments of others on this page - it's the closest movie yet to ERB's vision of Tarzan. I hope that the movie garners enough support to warrant a sequel. One thing about the Tarzan character I had forgotten until recently - at the end of the original ERB story "Tarzan's Quest" Tarzan seemingly becomes immortal. If this angle were played up in the new movies we could see Tarzan adventures at various points in history.

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