The Legend of Tarzan

The Legend of Tarzan ★★★★½

"Tarzan, you look funny!"

"Nice outfit, Jane!"

"An ordinary man will do the impossible to save the woman he loves. My husband is no ordinary man."

"Where was your honour?"
"I had none."

"…no man has ever started with less."

Far be it from me to argue with the great Marc Bernardin (please let me know if that link works, it's only the second time I've used Storify…), who surely knows better than me on this stuff (especially the stuff he addresses in those tweets), but it does seem we both came to this movie wanting something it was under no obligation to deliver - the difference being that I got mine. You should all know how I feel about the Disney movie - it changed my life. Normally I would've avoided this (like I have so far that horrendous looking computer animation a few years back) because (as Bernardin says) there seems to be no need for it - but I also like David Yates, he did wonderful things with the last few Harry Potter movies (especially Order of the Phoenix) and I wanted to see whatever he did next (even if it has Eddie Redmayne in it, as his next movie does - I still want to see him do a horror movie after that opening scene of Phoenix…). Then I saw the trailer which got my hopes way higher than expected. Then I saw a clip on Colbert with some laughable looking effects that put me off again. So this could easily have gone the way of the AbFab movie for me, is what I'm saying.

Yet it defied my expectations from the first scene onward. I had no idea what the story was going to be here, or where they were going to pick up with Tarzan - so I was kind of waylaid from the moment we find him as "Lord Greystoke", flat out denying his past (but guzzling raw eggs in private), in London. There's a lot of exposition in the first half hour of this movie, talk of land and trade and debt almost on the level of The Phantom Menace, I started wondering who exactly they made this movie for, yet it's all done in this bizarre, borderline tongue-in-cheek way, tonally it almost reminded me of Crimson Peak for some reason. You have Samuel L. Jackson in the background of some of these scenes, and I think he on the one side and Christoph Waltz on the other are why this movie worked for me even at its wobbliest - they know exactly what kind of movie they're in. At one point there are some of those slightly dodgy visual effects I saw in that Colbert clip, when Tarzan and Jackson are up in the trees - some severely fake looking green-screen matting I suspect may have been exacerbated in 3D - yet it's such a ridiculous scene anyway (we might believe Tarzan made it onto those trees, but Jackson's character is presented as being completely out of his element), and Jackson completely sells that ridiculousness the way only he can, I sort of forgave the visuals. Maybe it's simply because it has both him and Christoph Waltz that I found so much of the movie kind of played like "Django Unchained for kids" (there are some gloriously Tarantino-esque moments where Jackson gets his hands on bigger and better guns, and Waltz is, well, Waltz…) - there's a huge slavery element to the story, and some subtle stuff in Jackson's backstory (post-civil war he played a part in an Indian massacre - "we were no better than these Belgians," he tells Tarzan, speaking of the evil Waltz and his crew) that's reflected in the cycle of vengeance that comes to a head in the finale - a finale in which the color of Jackson's character's skin is very important. All of this was icing to me but I felt like, even if it's not quite the progressive take Bernardin and others might want, it's certainly trying pretty darn hard with a source that doesn't allow for much progression - I'd say the same for the slightly more pro-active presentation of Jane here too, she saves herself at many junctures; and, going even further than that, the movie kind says more than anything that the animals are better than any of us wretched humans (some of the most touching moments, as in the Disney movie, are simple, silent, harmless moments of physical contact between man and beast).

Anyway, all of this was icing to me. All I wanted here was for it to have even half of the heart of the Disney movie - something, as I said, I had no right to expect. But lo and behold, pretty early in the movie, there's the scene where the natives sing "the Legend of Tarzan" around a fire, and Jane translates to Jackson's character (who looks very much like he wishes he understands), and we get the flashbacks to the classic origin stuff, and I kind of lost it. That's all I needed from this, really. Everything else (including the outright Disney homage of the final shot) was wonderful, wonderful bonus material.

Melody liked these reviews