Review of movie, The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

You can write fiction to include historical figures like King Leopold II of Belgium or Samuel L. Jackson’s George Washington Williams character.    Williams was a real-life Civil War soldier, Baptist minister, historian, politician, lawyer, and journalist who died in his 40s.

I went to a movie theater to see this movie because I like Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgaard as an actor.   I first saw him in the HBO television series “True Blood” when he portrayed the vampire sheriff. 

Over 200 films have featured author Edgar Rice Burroughs’ character, a white orphan raised by apes in the African jungle.   A multitude of different white men have played as Tarzan since 1918, either in the flesh or in voiceovers.   I had seen all of the Johnny Weissmuller movies in which Johnny portrayed the fictional Tarzan, Lord Greystoke.   Weismuller was a 5-time Olympic gold medalist who made 12 Tarzan movies beginning in 1932.  For decades, Tarzan was Hollywood’s biggest foreign export.   In the 1966 NBC series, Ron Ely did his own stunts in his portrayal of Tarzan and ended up with lion bites and broken bones.  

What I didn’t like about the Tarzan character as I was growing up was that Africans were always portrayed as big-eyed and hopping around comically, always earning Tarzan’s vengeance or salvation.  The name Tarzan literally meant “White Skin”.   I also noticed that not all of the Tarzans were comfortable walking around in a loincloth whether in movies or television shows.

The Legend of Tarzan is the best of all the Tarzan movies.  It was made to reflect what is going on in the world today.  “For the first time in the franchise, black lives matter.”  There are many things I liked about this movie:

  1. The romance between Tarzan and Jane was different than in the Weismuller movies.  Jane (Australian Margot Robbie) was portrayed as Tarzan’s equal in many ways.
  2. Skarsgaard, being tall and lean, built up a lot of muscles for the movie.
  3. There was a dignified portrayal of African tribes made up of brave and intelligent men and women which is our history.
  4. In the movie, Tarzan seemed to be ashamed to be thought of as the book character published at that time and only seemed to relate to children as Tarzan. 
  5. The poignant part of the story of a younger Tarzan killing a chief’s son because the young tribesman killed Tarzan’s ape “mother” and the chief (played by Benin-born Djimon Hounsou) grieved and swore revenge over the loss of his son, resulting in his giving Leopold’s cause a box full of diamonds.
  6. The villainous Captain Leon Rom, played by Austrian Christophe Waltz, traded Tarzan for diamonds for King Leopold, “ruler” over the Congo.
  7. The CGI special effects, especially of the gorillas and other animals, were perfect.
  8. And, of course, Samuel L. Jackson, played George Washington Williams, who convinced fictional Tarzan to come out of retirement to help prove the slavery situation in Africa’s Belgian Congo which Williams actually promoted in letters.  

This movie, The Legend of Tarzan, was directed by David Yates, and written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer.   The movie cost $180 million to make and earned $356.7 million at the box office.

Sources noted in the articles below:

Keegan, Rebecca, Los Angeles Times Movies, “Can You Make a Non-racist Tarzan Movie?” latimes.com, July 1, 2016.

Price, Lydia, “15 Hunky Actors Who’ve Played Tarzan Throughout the Years”, https://people.com, June 30, 2016.

Bady, Aron, “The Only Good Tarzan is a Bad Tarzan”, Pacific Standard, July 8, 2016.

Hughey, Matthew.  The White Savior Film: Content, Critics, and Consumption.   Temple University Press.  2014.

Hochschild, Adam.  King Leopold’s Ghost:  A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa.  Mariner Books, 1998.

Written by Rosa L. Griffin

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