Legend of Tarzan Succeeds Where Other Franchise Revivals Fail
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2016 30 Jun
Adventurous and ambitious if not altogether as rousing as the best summer blockbusters, The Legend of Tarzan revives a franchise for which no one seemed to be clamoring. But unlike the 2012 adaptation of John Carter (which, like Tarzan, is based on stories from Edgar Rice Burroughs), or The Lone Ranger reboot a year later, this update is more often fun than not. 3.5 out of 5.
Want Another Take? Watch Our Video Review of The Legend of Tarzan
Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) and Jane (Margot Robbie) return in the latest attempt to revive the Tarzan stories for modern audiences. The ape man has settled into a civilized life in England as John Clayton, third Earl of Greystoke, but mercenary Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), working on behalf of King Leopold of Belgium, wants to hand Tarzan over to a Congo chief (Djimon Hounsou) who has an old score to settle with Tarzan.
The film both fills in the background of the Tarzan legend as well as carrying it through to his civilized life in England. But taking Tarzan out of the jungle doesn’t take the jungle out of Tarzan. Sent to the Congo to determine Leopold's broader plan, Tarzan brings along Jane and an American, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson). Tarzan and Jane reconnect with old friends—both man and beast—before a final confrontation with Rom.
More than you might expect. The romance between Tarzan and Jane, while not deep, is convincing, and Jackson brings humor and a more modern—perhaps too modern—sensibility to what is, at heart, an old-fashioned adventure story. The Legend of Tarzan slows for a time but it never stalls—and it sometimes soars. There's fun to be had here for older children and grown-ups, although some episodes are violent and the dialogue includes a few uses of foul language.
While the action scenes are more than passable, Tarzan's trademark vine-swinging is too brief and simultaneously too chaotic to appreciate. He flies by so fast that it's hard to tell if the CGI in those moments is simply subpar, or if director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) didn't trust modern audiences to buy into that particular feat of acrobatics. Also, the film's flashbacks are introduced without any visual cues, leading to momentary confusion as viewers adjust to the story's shifting timeline.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
Tarzan is said to be thought of as an evil spirit who has power over animals' spirits. Dead soldiers are shown hanging from crosses. A character says, "God help us. God help him." A rosary is used by Rom as a deadly weapon. Jane says she was raised in America and therefore doesn’t believe in spirits. A storyline that looks like it will end in revenge becomes more about personal honor.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, some sensuality and brief rude dialogue
- Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; “a-s”; “dam-”; “bas-ard”; “s-it”; crude reference to male anatomy.
- Sexuality/Nudity: Tarzan and Jane kiss, lay down and begin to make love; the movie then cuts to them later, sleeping next to each other under the covers.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: Lots of fighting, some gunfire and brief images of people getting shot and stabbed.
Drugs/Alcohol: Clayton is shown with a glass of wine near at hand; Williams and others in a group drink beer.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Those looking for a fun adventure without deep themes or profound ideas.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Those who can’t get past the idea of a man raised by apes. There are some things you just have to accept if you’re going to have any chance of enjoying a story about Tarzan.
The Legend of Tarzan, directed by David Yates, opened in theaters July 1, 2016; available for home viewing October 11, 2016. It runs 109 minutes and stars Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson and Djimon Hounsou. Watch the trailer for The Legend of Tarzan here.
Christian Hamaker brings a background in both Religion (M.A., Reformed Theological Seminary) and Film/Popular Culture (B.A., Virginia Tech) to his reviews. He still has a collection of more than 100 laserdiscs, and for DVDs patronizes the local library. Streaming? What is this "streaming" of which you speak? He'll figure it out someday. Until then, his preferred viewing venue is a movie theater. Christian is happily married to Sarah, a parent coach and author of Hired@Home and Ending Sibling Rivalry.
Publication date: June 30, 2016