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  Legend of Tarzan, The And Be Like An Apeman
Year: 2016
Director: David Yates
Stars: Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Hounsou, Sidney Ralitsoele, Jim Broadbent, Ben Chaplin, Osy Ikhile, Mens-Sana Tamakloe, Antony Acheampong, Edward Apeagyei, Ashley Byam, Casper Crump, Miles Jupp
Genre: Action, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Belgian Congo in the late nineteenth century, where the King of Belgium has basically run out of funds and is seeking a replacement in his budget for running the region. To that end he has sent his envoy, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), to hunt down an extremely lucrative source of diamonds, so he is accompanied by a platoon of their soldiers to a remote area ruled over by Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou). They do not receive a warm welcome - by the time they reach the mouth of the pass where they would have access to the tribe, they are attacked (though the soldiers shoot first), leaving Rom the sole survivor. However, he is a cunning negotiator, and strikes a deal with the Chief... give him the diamonds and he will give the Chief Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård).

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, the Great White Ape, is not even in Africa at this point for he has long since returned to England to take up his position as a different kind of Lord, and has no intention of returning. But is he happy? This film would posit that he was not, and that the old adage home is where the heart is never rang so true for a man who was brought up in the jungle by apes after his parents were stranded there. Originally they were going to miss out the origins of the character, but director David Yates was persuaded to include passages from Edgar Rice Burroughs' source material when he realised that not everyone was familiar with it; think on that, one of the most celebrated fictional heroes ever created, and a large part of the audience were not aware of his backstory.

That indicated how far down the pop culture ladder Tarzan had slipped, from a ubiquitous presence to one who was in danger of being relegated to the past, so it might well have been regarded as a curious decision to bring him back in a would-be blockbuster when there was a strong chance he would not prove a moneyspinner at the box office. As it turned out, it did fairly well, nothing incredible but it was received with a welcome in many territories and from many audiences, though there were the naysayers who objected either to a Tarzan who relied so heavily on computer imagery for his stunts, or even to a Tarzan existing in the twenty-first century at all. Was he a relic best left in the past?

If anything, The Legend of Tarzan, in spite of its period setting, was more like one of the sixties entries in the series where the hero was struggling to remain relevant, but instead of sending him on holiday or have him, ahem, ape contemporary trends like James Bond, Yates and his screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer opted for the historical angle. Rom was a real person, and a real unpleasant person at that, King Leopold did slaughter millions of Africans for his personal gain, and while Tarzan was not a historical figure, his companion who persuades him to return to Africa in the first place was George Washington Williams, the American historian and activist played about thirty years too old for the role by Samuel L. Jackson. Not that he allowed that to hold him back as he contributed a hefty dose of personality to a film that too often relied on Tarzan's nobility which tended towards a humble demeanour.

Alexander Skarsgård certainly looked the part, especially when he finally took his shirt off to reveal not the brawn of the books but a gym-toned physique, though accepting that Tarzan was the world's first superhero as we know them, that suited a modern concept. What was missing? Jane, of course, so step forward Margot Robbie as the apeman's spouse who not only proved herself worthy of him, but made sure he proved himself worthy of her, no matter that she, as in countless action flicks, was a female kidnapped by the baddies. Still, there was a thematic reason for that as a whole tribe she and her partner are friendly with are kidnapped too - into slavery, offering a more shaded view of the issue where it acknowledged black Africans were just as guilty for enslaving their fellow black Africans should they be conquered, while also making it clear the Europeans and Americans had their dreadful part to play as well. Tarzan and Williams are working together to restore their respective races' good name, which supplied an interesting, if not entirely convincing, depth to the proceedings amidst the vine-swinging and wild animal corralling. For an update that was pretty much a popcorn movie that took itself very seriously, not bad. Music by Rupert Gregson-Williams.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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