New ‘Tarzan’ a rollicking tale of adventure, romance and eye candy
The Legend of Tarzan
Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz & Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by David Yates
You probably know Tarzan, one way or another. Edgar Rice Burroughs launched the “ape man” into popular culture in magazines and novels in the early 1900s. Several other actors had already portrayed him before former Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller put on a loincloth and grunted his way though the 1930s and ’40s for a dozen films, which ran endlessly on TV in the following decades.
Ron Ely and others played him on television. Walt Disney turned him into a cartoon. And there were other Tarzans, too, in some 200 movies and TV shows between 1918 and today.
Now the original “Lord of the Apes” returns to the big screen in a sumptuous, sprawling epic that blends his backstory with a rollicking new tale of adventure, romance and enough eye candy to attract audiences of all sorts.
Swedish-born actor Alexander Skarsgård (from TV’s True Blood series) stars as British nobleman John Clayton, raised as a feral child by mighty apes of the African Congo after the deaths of his parents. Now an adult for years resettled in his ancestral home with his beautiful wife Jane (Margot Robbie), he’s lured back to the Dark Continent by a plot of deception involving slavery, revenge, railroads, diamond mines and a corrupt Belgian megalomaniac (Christoph Waltz).
Director David Yates, who made his bones with all four movies of the Harry Potter franchise, works with all the tools in his impressive kit—and what must have been every nickel of his mega-budget. The visuals are grand: mist-shrouded mountain passes, jungles with impenetrable foliage; armies of Congolese warriors; fearsome gorillas; a stampeding herd of hundreds of wildebeest. Even though most of the film was reportedly shot on soundstages and sets in England, you’d never know it: When the action shifts to Africa, you’re transported there, too.
Margot Robbie is terrific as Jane, who was raised in the jungle, as well, the daughter of a missionary teacher. A real spitfire of spunk and spirit, she’s so much more than a “damsel in distress.” Samuel L. Jackson plays George Washington Williams, an American envoy to Britain who accompanies Tarzan and Jane on their return trip to Africa. He’s got a backstory of his own, and though he may not be in prime shape to keep up with Tarzan step for step, he comes in pretty handy with a gun.
Waltz, as usual, makes a dandy villain, and Djimon Hounson (from Gladiator and Guardians of the Galaxy) has a necessary, if somewhat nasty, role as a tribal leader looking to stage a major grudge match.
Ladies will swoon—as Jane does—when Skarsgård initially reveals his sexy, sculpted torso, in a flashback scene that recalls their first steamy jungle encounter. And moviegoers in general will thrill when Tarzan finally gets around to doing what he does best: working those jungle vines, baby!
Late in the movie, we get to hear the iconic Tarzan yell, rolling across the miles—he’s coming. “Tarzan,” says Waltz’s character, relishing the moment, knowing the man he’s been trying to catch is close. “It sounded different than I thought…better.”
Different, and better, like this movie. After years of musty, rusty so-so and too-many Tarzans, now there’s a new, sexy big-screen Lord of the Apes—and he’s swinging again.
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine