Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L Jackson, Margot Robbie
Director: David Yates
What is it about Tarzan? Edgar Rice Burrough’s ape-raised boy has seemingly never engaged on the big screen. Not one child will ever say their favourite character on the telly is Tarzan. How many kids have Tarzan sandwich boxes? None. Why? It’s a good story, Tarzan’s pretty cool. Admittedly, it (allegedly) ripped off Rudyard Kipling but the Jungle Book did well. So why is Mowgli the hip skateboarding kid on the block and Tarzan the crap loner who everyone says sucks donkey balls? He lacks faults, that’s what. He’s just good at everything; climbing, swinging, learning English really quickly, charming the ladies (even though he sniffs their arses first), fighting, talking to animals, he’s rich, ripped, good looking. What he doesn’t have though is a dark side, a chip on his shoulder, a deadly allergy to Kryptonite. He just fights big animals and evil buggers with guns and wins the girl, and no-one likes someone who wins all the time (apart from Bradley Wiggins and that’s completely down to the sideburns loving eventists). We all want to know when he walks off into the sunset with Jane that his mind is elsewhere, plotting revenge or looking over his shoulder to an arch-enemy. No-one likes a show-off. Tarzan; school head boy. Piss off.
To its credit, The Legend of Tarzan takes a slightly different arch to the regular Tarzan plot. Tarzan is back in England, taking up his rightful family place in the House of Lords as John Clayton, Jane is the It girl of her day. But the despicable king of Belgium is trying to place a vast army of mercenaries in The Congo to literally enslave the entire country and mine its huge stash of diamonds. Leon Rom (Waltz) has been promised by a tribesman he can have all the diamonds he can imagine, just as long as he can deliver Tarzan to him so he can settle an old score. Tarzan sets off on a furtive Rom-meditated royal visit with Jane and Samuel L. Jackson’s George Washington (not that one) to the Congo to try and diplomatically settle matters. Unsurprisingly matters become far from diplomatic.
The film almost strangles itself on its own mindboggling sentimentality. How long can a man stare into the eye of a CGI elephant without choking on his own romanticism? You wonder how Jackson can monologue about the demons of his past with such fag-packet idealism without picking up a 44 and asking Tarzan if he thinks he’s a bitch. The tribes untouched by mankind speak in perfect Afrikaans-blanched English too, which is handy for all concerned. Strange, but handy nonetheless. And the ending (god, the ending) feels like Jumanji without Robin Williams (I’ll leave you with that one).
The Legend of Tarzan is just about dragged through by Waltz and Jackson, both of which are so natural in their charm it’s impossible not to love them in everything they do (not Robocop, fair enough). Admittedly Jackson is on basic dial-a-smart-talking-black-guy duty here and Waltz is playing the same character he has played in every single film since Django, but they’re just so damn good at those roles, you never tire of them.
Unfortunately, The Legend of Tarzan will not change kid’s perceptions of the ape-man. Next time you’re at B&M, take a look how many Tarzan sandwich boxes there are, even check behind the Jungle Book ones. How many do you say? None? Even at B&M? Bah, mission failed.
4 / 10