Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Christoph Walz, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou, Ella Purnell
Director: David Yates
“His straight and perfect figure, muscled as the best of the ancient Roman gladiators must have been muscled, and yet with the soft and sinuous curves of a Greek god, told at a glance the wondrous combination of enormous strength with suppleness and speed,” Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote in the first 1912 novel about a heroic figure who was raised in the African jungles.
I’ve seen a great many Tarzans starting with the Olympic champ Johnny Weismuller and much as I loved the previous Tarzan, I must say Alexander Skarsgad who served in the Swedish Army, blends sensitivity and sensuality and, may well be the best of them all in this latest retelling of the jungle-bred blue-blood who swings into cinemas with his companion beasts in equally stellar roles. (Needless to say, the CGI animals are magnificent.)
British director David Yates who helmed the final four Harry Potter movies invests this reboot with emotive power in a grand vision that shows how an aristocratic infant, John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke came to be nurtured by apes. Inside and away from the fictional jungle, the natives weave legends around the ape child, called Tarzan and bestowing him with an ambiguous character. But the audience and Jane (Margot Robbie) can see him as he truly is: good and kind.
Yates begins the narrative with Tarzan and Jane’s return to the Congo from England on trade mission with a new found friend in tow (Samuel L Jackson). The trio is unaware that a crafty crook (Christoph Waltz) has nefarious plans for the Greystokes, especially Tarzan. To deliver him to his arch enemy – no, not the mighty ape who believes Tarzan abandoned his jungle family, and eventually draws him into a jaw-dropping fight, but the vengeful warlord (Djimon Hounsou) who is a salutary lesson in double standards: he expects Tarzan to forgive his son for killing his ape-mother, but is unable to forgive Tarzan.
Worse than this fearsome character are the Belgians whose avarice equals their racism. Poachers and big game hunters figure abound in many of Burroughs’ books, and while Burroughs could well have harboured racist sentiments, the film excoriates the racist colonialists who pose an existential threat to both the native population and the animal kingdom.
When all seems lost, Tarzan summons his four-footed friends, in a last stand to keep the jungle safe from such rapacious men as the character played by walz (like Dolf Lundgren, a scientist/ engineer/Fulbright Scholar, who invariably plays a vacuous muscle-man on celluloid, Walz is also typecast as a villain; more’s the pity since an actor of his brilliance could easily take on diverse roles). Releasing closely on the heels of the killing of the gorilla Harambe in a Cincinnati Zoo, and the poor leopard who was misused as a mascot for an Olympic related event in Latin America, The Legend of Tarzan brings to mind the grief and anger created by these incidents. But even if real life tragedies are far from the audience’s mind, this well-directed/acted film exquisitely shot in a splendid setting, is geared to be memorable viewing.