Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)


Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz headline this reimagining of the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp hero helmed by Harry Potter director David Yates. Find out if this film is worth your time or more in line with John Carter.


Film adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work have not had the best time setting the film world on fire. Disney’s 2012 Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp epic John Carter holds the distinction of being one of the biggest box office bombs of all time. Tarzan has not had the best of luck on the big screen despite being extremely popular in serials starring Johnny Weismuller during Hollywood’s Golden Age in the 1930’s. 1984’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes starring Highlander’s Christopher Lambert as Tarzan and 1998’s Tarzan and the Lost City with Casper Van Dien being the two most well-known examples. Warner Brothers hopes to buck this trend with The Legend of Tarzan, helmed by Harry Potter mainstay David Yates, with Alexander Skarsgard as the titular vine-swinging hero and Margot Robbie as Tarzan’s Jane.

The film curiously takes a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen take on the Tarzan legend, with Tarzan being established as the king of the jungle and Earl of Greystoke at the start of the film. He’s being urged by real-life civil rights advocate and former Civil War soldier George Washington Williams (played by Samuel L. Jackson) to go back to the Congo to expose King Leopold’s institution of slavery in the Congolese State. A slavery that is in part the institution of Leon Rom (played by Christoph Waltz), the head of the Congo Force Publique. While these are real people and Leopold’s harsh rule of the Congo is as well, the film lapses heavily into fiction from the get-go. Rom needs the diamonds of the fictional city of Opar to fund his army of mercenaries and needs to get them from Mbonga, (Djimon Honsou) head of the Leopard Men and a man who has sworn revenge against Tarzan. So Tarzan and Williams decide to ultimately go to the Congo to see if slavery has truly taken hold in Tarzan’s former home.

In many ways, The Legend of Tarzan is the pulp based blockbuster that John Carter and The Mummy wish they could’ve been. The casting in the film elevates the material and Skarsgard has excellent chemistry with Robbie and Jackson, which is essential for the film’s success and keeping it grounded. Robbie is cast extremely well as Jane. She’s written as a feisty and independent figure, one that considers herself as much of a native of the Congo as Tarzan. Tarzan is written as having developed ape like characteristics because of his time living among the apes, which makes his extraordinary abilities more believable.

The issues in the film arise in regards to CGI. We live in a new age now where many of the same animals featured heavily in pulp inspired films like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom are endangered and threatened. Thus, the film replaces them with CGI. We have CGI apes, lions, elephants, water buffalo, and cheetahs – oh my. However, its not as refined as the apes in the recent Planet of the Apes films and the overabundance of it gives the film a strong “uncanny valley” vibe. Regardless, it is quite the achievement and the film promises a new world where we can recreate any time period on the silver screen.

Overall, The Legend of Tarzan is a fun piece of popcorn entertainment and a throwback to films like King Solomon’s Mines and The Phantom – check it out for some fun nostalgic big screen action.