I think I’d been expecting this to be the retelling of the Tarzan story, following in the path of The Jungle Book and Maleficent to be a live-action version of the other Tarzan movies. I was expecting it to be a Tarzan Reboot. It was not. The first time we see Tarzan in this The Legend of Tarzan, he’s dressed in a suit in his manor. This is not the story of Tarzan growing up in the jungle, it’s the story of Tarzan returning to the jungle and what happens when he does. That’s a much better story and Tarzan a much more complex character. That was unexpected – I’d gone just to see Alexander Skarsgard’s abs and I’d gotten so much more.
I loved this movie. Loved it. Not just because it was a good story, but how well it was told. This could have been just a story about badass Tarzan going up against the well-armed men to defend himself and his jungle. Well in fairness, that’s exactly what happened but there were other layers than that. I’d never thought of Tarzan as a particularly layered character so it was surprising to see his motivations and relationships, his home and his family and how those things shift. Packaged in with a competent action film was a rich emotional story or two. It’s not a comic book movie (otherwise it would have been called Tarzan: The Legend)
Part of what made this good was how good the acting was AND there was well-written dialogue to back it up. The result was a palpable chemistry between every character, most of all between Tarzan and Jane. Their relationship felt so believable and fresh. Margot Robbie was a fantastic Jane. Likewise, Christoph Waltz was such a good villain, at once relate-able and despicable. Their motivations were all shown at some point so that you could really root for the good guys and hate the bad guys. Also one thing director David Yates was able to do that I haven’t seen a lot of directors do is to have the characters go for long moments without talking or shooting. Some of the most powerful moments in this film were nearly silent for longer than I expected.
Visually too, The Legend of Tarzan was relentlessly beautiful, from beginning to end. It didn’t hurt that the story lent itself to that – helicopter shots of the African landscape are inherently nice to look at, it seems. As is Mr. Skarsgard himself. But everything else was well shot too – the shots of 1900s London, the steam powered riverboat, even the fight scenes. (no hand-held camera shots, I noticed). The musical score was also particularly effective. I don’t often notice the music but I did in this film.
Of course not everything was perfect. There was some stretching of credulity (though I can’t actually tell you here because I don’t want to give stuff away). But these moments were few and far between and besides, this isn’t a nature documentary. I found the use of slavery was a bit weird and unsettling, even though it was roughly the right era (the American Civil War ended about 50-ish years before the events of this movie). Still, I nitpick. I had to really think to find things to criticize about this film and that’s the best I could come up with.
So is The Legend of Tarzan worth seeing? God yes. And not just because there was so much manflesh, though there was that. At its heart, this is a story about someone returning to where he belongs and watching that unfold was powerful. I’m going to see it again for sure, I may even buy it to add to my personal library.