The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skarsgård and Margot Robbie, is an updated take on the classic tale. Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novel series, this 2016 film adaptation is both true to the original and a fresh look at the legend of Tarzan. I went into this with perhaps less bias than most. Although I am an avid fan of the book series, I have never seen any of the many film versions of the Tarzan tale – not even the animated Disney version. So in my mind, I only had Burroughs’ novels as a point of comparison. In my opinion, this version took the mythical, legendary elements of the original epic and married them to a modern adventure-romance story for a movie that, like all great couples, is more than the sum of its parts.
I really don’t know where to start – I love so many things about this movie. The visuals, for one, are absolutely stunning. The shots are gorgeous and the backgrounds are breathtaking. The cinematography of this movie is a work of art in and of itself. And the score! The music completely swept me off my feet. At times grand and sweeping, at times soft and tender, at times intense and dramatic, but always beautiful and compelling. And the incorporation of traditional music and singing was completely perfect. The opening music and vocals gives me chills every single time.
Then of course there is the story. The screenwriters seem to have drawn on elements from several of the original novels and on some actual events from Africa’s history, specifically the history of the Belgian Congo. The fantastical elements of the legend of Tarzan are grounded by the very real facts of African exploitation and enslavement. This creates a compelling narrative that is both thrilling and thought-provoking. I also love the way the story opens in England, nearly a decade after Tarzan and Jane have left Africa. Instead of with his feral upbringing, which is shown in flashbacks. Both the story and the characters are extremely well-crafted.
Speaking of characters, I now come to the casting. Spot on, in my book. Margot Robbie’s Jane Porter is everything we could ever want – beautiful, fierce, effervescent, strong, feminine, free-spirited. She is never the damsel in distress – she rescues Tarzan every bit as much as he rescues her. George Washington Williams, based on the American journalist who exposed much of the evil happening in the Belgian Congo, is of course brilliantly played by Samuel L. Jackson. Is he ever less than perfect in any of his roles? And of course I adore Chief Muviro (Yule Masiteng) and the rest of the Kuba tribe. And Wasimbu (Sidney Ralitsoele) is not only one of my favorite characters, he’s also perhaps the best-looking guy in the movie. Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) is one of our story’s 2 villains and eminently despicable. He is also based on a real person and it is saddening to think that humanity is capable of what he is and does. Which makes his ultimate defeat that much more satisfying. Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) is a different breed of villain but his story arc is satisfying as well. And then of course we have our hero: Tarzan, John Clayton III, fifth Earl of Greystoke, son of John and Lady Alice Clayton. Alexander Skarsgård perfectly captures both sides of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original hero: the polished aristocrat and the beast caged within. He makes it so easy to believe that he was indeed raised by the mangani (a fictional species of ape created by Burroughs). And of course, he is very easy on the eyes.
In short, I love the Tarzan books and I love The Legend of Tarzan. Although I’ve not seen them, I do have a working knowledge of some of the other film adaptations and I believe this version to be the first to remain true to the spirit of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original classic. The creators of this movie have brought to life a character and a legend that has had a special place in my heart for many years. I highly recommend The Legend of Tarzan to film-viewers everywhere.