In many long early minutes of this film, the man we see before us is a far cry from the Tarzan of our childhood days. There isn’t any spirited swinging from tree to tree, and heaven forbid that he lets loose with the savage patented Tarzan yell while in the company of proper English gentlemen.
You see, Tarzan, aka John Clayton III (Alexander Skarsgard), has left his jungle home for London, where he has been living with the feisty love of his life, Jane (Margot Robbie), and serving as a member of the House of Lords for almost a decade.
He is kind of a big deal among the people living deep in the jungles of the Congo, who have immortalised him in song and dance.
But when we meet him, he has cast aside his loincloth for sharply tailored button-down coats and has apparently mastered the art of drinking tea as the British do.
This story of Tarzan unfolds at a languid pace in the beginning, skirting dangerously close to letting what feels like one too many flashbacks do the heavy lifting.
When in Victorian England, Skarsgard’s Clayton wears an inscrutable expression most of the time, the epitome of a man slightly bored with, and perhaps even a little stifled by, the gentrified life.
The Legend Of Tarzan
Director: David Yates
Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou
In this world of civilised men, he is appropriately restrained and his smile never quite reaches his eyes.
But sometimes it rains, even in paradise.
Under the guise of an invitation from Belgium’s King Leopold, Clayton has to return to Africa where his old adversaries await his return with bated breath. This spells trouble, especially since the King’s envoy, a suave Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), is working hand in glove with those who are hungry for vengeance, specifically one Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), a warrior fierce and powerful who wears leopard claws over his fists and its head over his own.
The pacing picks up when Clayton, now back in the land where he was raised by apes once upon a time, sheds the trappings of civilisation for the freedom of the jungle.
It is a rather dramatic transformation from genteel Englishman to this ripped, bare-chested man-beast, a journey that seems as liberating for our protagonist as much as it is for the audience.
This is also when you realise that he never really looks quite as comfortable as he does when out of his clothes – and hey, who’s complaining!
There are a few things that this film, directed by David Yates (who helmed the last four movies of the Harry Potter series), manages to convey well. Clayton’s easy transition back into his Tarzan jungle days certainly tops the list.
He’s strong, nimble and agile, can speak with animals and has mastered their mating calls, which Jane seems to like … a lot.
Samuel L. Jackson’s George Washington Williams, who joins him in his jungle adventure, serves not just as comic relief but also a reminder of how a regular joe holds up (or not) against Clayton/Tarzan in his element. Where our jungle man closes in on his target in long bounding strides, Williams huffs and puffs and struggles to keep up as any other person would.
The tree-swinging scenes are really cool, as are the African landscape shots and Skarsgard’s impressive abs.
But sadly, after the magnificence and majesty of the animals in this year’s Jungle Book, the computer-generated beasts of Tarzan’s jungle pale in comparison.
Seeing how Clayton is as much a part of the jungle as it is of him, it will probably please many people that this take on Tarzan, despite being hardly the most epic of tales, ends the way it does. It is a pity, though, that the ride isn’t as memorable, nor will it be as enduring, as Tarzan’s apparent legendary god-like status in the jungle.