My expectations of this film had been on something of a rollercoaster prior to actually seeing it. I saw that Alexander Skarsgård had been cast, saw the poster and the trailer – all of which piqued my interest. Then, inevitably I started to spot disdain towards the film on Twitter – “the trailer looks awful” etc – and then, the negative reviews rolled in. One annoying aspect of the online snobbery aimed at this film was dismissing it as a “remake”. Remake of which version, exactly? Tarzan is a legend that has been re-told over so many years, in so many formats (TV, animation etc), that this is just one “stab” at the character. So, by the time I actually got around to seeing it, my hopes were not high. This may have ended up being a good thing, because I was actually pleasantly surprised.
I’m not going to lie, Skarsgård was a big selling point for me, having been a huge fan of him as Eric in ‘True Blood’ and his work in ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’. Throw in woman-of-the-moment, Margot Robbie, rent-a-European-villain Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson (who I had forgotten was in it until I saw the film), and you’ve got yourself an interesting and undeniably quality cast. I was pleased to see director David Yates’ name in the title credits too, as he directed the last four Harry Potter films.
Tarzan’s introduction as a character in this film is with him sitting in a certain number 10 building in London, in full Victorian gentleman regalia, being addressed as Lord Greystoke. This was initially jarring, and I assumed the rest of the film would be an extended flashback. This was not the case however, the film takes place after Tarzan has met Jane, married her, become “civilised” and returned to London to claim his ancestral home. The premise of the film is that he is being persuaded to have “one last go” back in the jungle (very specifically, The Congo) to establish just what exactly King Leopold of Belgium is up to in his colony. George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), who has lived through the American Civil War, is concerned that King Leopold is attempting to enslave the entire nation, so he can pillage it for diamonds, saving him from bankruptcy. I was surprised to learn since watching the film, that Jackson’s character and Waltz’s (Leon Rom) were actually fairly closely based on real historical figures. It is bold to have woven the legend of Tarzan in with historical events, but the odd structure did leave me feeling like I was watching a sequel to a film I had not seen. I was expecting the traditional “Tarzan origins” story, but this film goes far beyond that.
Although this film is on dodgy ground in terms of the “white man literally swoops in to save the tribal savages” storyline, I actually found the scenes of Tarzan and Jane being reunited with their friends in the village in Congo very touching. What worked less well were Tarzan’s interactions with his animal friends; the CGI was just not convincing enough and left these moments as nothing short of cringe-worthy. When the detestable Leon Rom (Waltz) kidnaps Jane (Robbie) as part of his nefarious plan to hand Tarzan over to the African Chief who wants revenge against him, there was some genuine tension – particularly in a dinner table scene (Waltz is so good at eating food in a menacing manner). Of course, it is sort of thrilling when Tarzan gives in to his fully savage core and starts swinging on the vines (although, again, the dodgy CGI was noticeable in these scenes). The CGI was probably most successful in the creation of Tarzan’s gorilla “family” – there was some actual emotion there and a thrilling fight between man and beast. The climax is hilariously ridiculous, but I found the film, as a whole, enjoyable and entertaining.
I suspect I may receive some abuse for liking this film (particularly when I hated a certain Batman film so much), but hey, I feel this film has something for everyone. Skarsgård, Robbie, Waltz and some actual history thrown in too. What’s not to like? Except for, maybe, the CGI.