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The Legend of Tarzan (2016)
Tonight's Feature Presentation


Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Sidney Ralitsoele

Written By: Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer

Directed By: David Yates

The Shot

A modern-sensibilities update to an old and familiar story, The Legend of Tarzan is an enjoyable summer escape.  It’s not flawless, but it doesn’t need to be; just sit back and take in the adventure.

The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?


I don’t care how many holes are in it.  It’s still delicious.

Pairs Well With...


Banana liqueur in a chocolate milkshake, for a tasty summer escape.

“Mating call.”

The Legend of Tarzan is what happens when a century’s worth of cultural evolution meets up with an outdated but still beloved character.  As created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the world of Tarzan is one of exceptional racism and white entitlement that just doesn’t play well under modern definitions of civilization.  This brings up a bit of a dilemma: since the character of Tarzan is utterly defined by the world of 19th to early 20th Century colonial Africa and really can’t exist well outside of it, how does one approach his story in an acceptable context for a modern audience?

The answer: instead of making the character a not-so-subtle agent of that racism and colonialist superiority, give it a wee twist so that he’s fighting said attitudes.

The result is The Legend of Tarzan.

The neat trick is that the major sea change in attitude only jumps out if you’re looking for it.  The politics don’t get in the way of the story… which is of course political, since it’s about the agent of a European king conspiring to enslave the native population of the Congo, but still.  It’s a natural storyline with lots of promise to deliver the kind of heroics and adventure people tend to associate with the name “Tarzan,” and in every way that counts, it works.

It works because Alexander Skarsgard’s portrayal of Tarzan is both heroic and unassuming.  He has the incredible strength and stamina of a modern comic book hero (and the superpower of being able to converse with animals, to boot), but he doesn’t throw it in anyone’s face beyond an almost apologetic warning to his companion that “you won’t be able to keep up.”  His strength is from within as much as it is from his exceptionally lean muscles, and his nobility derives from the whole of his experience rather than from mere blue blood.  The majesty of the animals amongst which he was raised, the pride of the African natives whom he befriended and respects, the resolute character of his “refuses-to-play-the-damsel” wife (magnificently performed by Margot Robbie); all of these plainly inform and actively contribute to making Tarzan who he is.  (And a distinct improvement over the Burroughs version, to boot.)

Or maybe it’ll work for you because of that fat-free eight-pack he’s always got on display while he swings through the trees in shirtless glory.  Whatever floats your boat down the Congo, I guess.

Whichever lens you choose to look through, the story of The Legend of Tarzan is as straightforward as it gets, with the bonus that it assumes most of the audience has at least somewhat of an idea of who the character’s supposed to be going in and thus doesn’t waste everyone’s time making it a straight-up origin story (though that tale is told piecemeal through regular and relevant flashbacks for the pop culturally slow class).  Our hero is set up against a bad guy who has Bond villain style ambitions (and who happens to be conveniently played by recent Bond villain Cristoph Waltz, who doesn’t stray too far from his Blofeld portrayal, to be honest), and his quest to stop said bad guy from enslaving all of the Congo happens to run parallel to his quest to save his wife from the very same bad guy… who is of course stringing Tarzan along because he needs to deliver him to an old nemesis in exchange for a chest full of diamonds.  It’s simple connect-the-dots formula, but that’s okay, because the formula works when you have a likable hero surrounded by likable companions chasing a dastardly baddie through the illusion of an epic location.  (Oh, the jungle is beautiful, to be sure, and it does look epic, but the insurance company preferred real Africa for wide shots only and left the close action to studios and CGI and safe places in England.  Not as brave as the National Geographic crews, I guess.)

The end result: just kick back, don’t think too much about it, and enjoy.

Really; I mean it.  Don’t think too much.  The only thing about The Legend of Tarzan that invites deeper thought is the sociological stuff I mentioned above, and you can do that after the movie is done.  If you start thinking about things, you’ll start picking up just how much of the really good CGI is really good CGI instead of letting the magic take you to Africa.  And then you might start to notice the holes in the plot and start picking up on little things like how the bad guy’s entire plan would have completely fallen apart if Tarzan had just stayed in England.  No one wins with that kind of thinking.

But, if you walk in to The Legend of Tarzan with nothing more than a sense of adventure and an appreciation for beautiful images on a big screen, then this is one summer escape that’s definitely worth taking.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, July, 2016

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


- copyright 2000-2016, Ziggy Berkeley and Cinema on the Rocks, all rights reserved.

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