The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

Popeye of the Apes:

The Legend of Tarzan



There are certain sentences in the English language that fill one with dread, sending a shiver of apprehension down the spine.

‘Bono/Bob Geldof is about to make another speech telling us what to do’.  That would be one.

‘There’s a soccer match starting in a minute’.  There’s another.  That one is usually delivered just as you’ve comfortably settled yourself at the pub counter and about to take your first swig of beer.

But the daddy of them all may well be:

“Hey — Samuel L. Jackson is in this movie!’

Stronger men than me have been known to run screaming naked down the street upon hearing a horror utterance like that one.  So when Jackson is a long way from being the most teeth-gnashing, rash-inducing, irritating element of a film, you know that you’re in for a bumpy ride.

Very briefly:

His jungle exploits over and chiefly famous now as a penny dreadful hero of 1890, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgård) has put his days as Tarzan behind him and fitted comfortably into life in England with this wife Jane (Margot Robbie).  However, the re-emergence of slavery means that he must return to his old stamping grounds in the company of American envoy, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) where the unscrupulous Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz) is using the wealth of a diamond region to finance a secret army that will soon embroil all of Africa in an inferno.

Role Reversals

I’m at a complete loss as to what was hoped to be achieved by this film.

It almost seems designed to leave nobody happy:  not those hoping for an action film and definitely not Edgar Rice Burroughs fans who might have been wishing like the mad, optimistic fools that we are, for something at least approximating the Tarzan of the novels.

What we get instead is something of an experiment in role reversal.  And to be fair, this works quite well as regards Jane.  Particularly in the later books, once she has lived with the ape-man for some years (the point that we’re at here) she is an incredibly self-sufficient woman, well able to fend for herself.

Unfortunately, in this version her husband seems wracked by such self-doubt and ambivalence over his dual nature that as a result he never really comes off as the warrior and leader we expect.  He spends an awful lot of his bloody time flat on his back and there is no way on earth that this guy would have grown to be King of the Apes.  Which is just as well, because he never did.

He behaves in ways that I simply couldn’t accept.

When an English child asks him if his mother was ‘a monkey’ he replies: ‘Of course not – my mother was Lady Alice’.  And that’s all well and good; but there is no way that Tarzan of the Apes would ever deny his beloved foster ape-mother Kala in this dismissive, cavalier manner – he mourned her death throughout his life.  And, infuriatingly, it is Tarzan rather than Jane who has no wish to return to Africa.  In fact, this Jane also grew up there and considers it home. HE considers it too hot!  Too frigging hot?  This IS Tarzan we’re talking about, isn’t it?

And look, if you think that I’m harping on about the original source material, well too bad.

We ERB fanatics have had a hundred years of films that never showed Greystoke as a complex man:  the cultured explorer; the intelligent speaker of thirty languages; and at the same time the murderous, savage beast that he often was.  The rot set in as early as the 1930s; and despite my affection for Tarzan the Ape Man and Tarzan and His Mate, that is where originated the grunting, half-coherent, seeming half-wit image that has never been shaken off in the popular imagination.

And of course Hugh Hudson’s 1984 Greystoke was annoying, pretentious twaddle that went to the other extreme.

In fact, to find the most faithful adaptation we really need to go back to the silent era and Scott Sidney’s 1918 Tarzan of the Apes with Elmo Lincoln – and this current travesty makes me want to watch that gem again as soon as possible.

A Lost Atlantean Outpost – Who Needs That?

The three major icons of late 19th/early 20th century literature – Dracula, Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan have each had around 200 films based on them – and no one has been treated as shabbily as the Lord of the Jungle.

So, no:  I don’t think that it’s too much at this point to ask for A BIT OF SHAGGING RESPECT for a classic — and some overdue attention to the source material. 

You never know, it might just have given the studio a hit instead of this half-baked drivel.

And what was this nonsense about just shoving in names from the series whenever scriptwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer felt like it? As just a couple of examples there is Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), which is a completely thankless part that has next to nothing to do with the character; or the Ape Akut who is used totally out of the original context.

And don’t even get me started on the utterly brainless use of Opar as the country where the jewels are mined.  In the novels Opar is a wildly romantic lost outpost of ancient Atlantis, ruled over by the wonderful, gorgeous and immortal La — a sort of Ayesha straight out of H. Rider Haggard but much more interesting.

Could that be more fascinating?

Well, God knows what Opar is supposed to be here because I certainly don’t.

At least they get the Apes right – and here (unlike in some other embarrassing scenes) the CGI is excellent and the creatures are portrayed as they should be:  a sort of violent missing link that was even then close to extinction.

And I did have a ‘That’s weirdly interesting’ moment when we see that Tarzan’s hands are overlarge and slightly malformed.  As he explains, his formative years spent walking on all fours has changed the bone structure.  Which is all well and good; the problem is that I spent the rest of the film looking intently at both his paws and his forearms, which eventually took on cartoon Popeye-like stature in my eyes.

Skarsgård is an exceptionally good-looking man and as we know from other work he is an interesting actor – but he’s way too doe-eyed and sensitive-looking for Tarzan; and if you’re waiting him to don the famous loin cloth, don’t.  This ape-man modestly swings through the trees in a pair of trousers.  Jesus wept.

…and starring Samuel L. Jackson — as Samuel L.  Jackson

At least the dreaded Samuel L. decided to tone down his usual over-the-top shenanigans – well, it is to its detriment a 12A rating – but of COURSE he couldn’t resist getting in just a bit of vulgarity.  And so we got to hear about him possibly licking an ape’s nuts.  And director David Yates of the last four Harry Potter outings was so delighted that he got Tarzan to repeat it.

After the oral rape sequence in The Hateful Eight I’m beginning to seriously wonder about this guy.

Christoph Waltz is what you expect as the charming bad guy who is some sort of an implausible crucifix-swinging martial arts expert, in a role that he could do in his sleep.  He also gets the movie’s most anachronistically offensive line thrown at him — one which involves priests and nine-year-old boys, the significance of which left me as puzzled as his character was and which raised thunderous laughs, not in the slightest.

My Final Chance for Jungle Happiness

And so that was that.  It was only after this was written that I learned how troubled the production and lead-up to filming had been.  No doubt the intentions were good, as they normally are.  Fat lot of good to me, though.

Since I was a kid, discovering that extraordinary original 1912 novel Tarzan of the Apes, I’ve dreamed of seeing it filmed just the way I pictured it.  If I make it to my late father’s age without falling off the twig, I’ve got 15 years left in me.  So the chances are slim that at this stage there will be a decent version in my lifetime.

Therefore it’s back to the great Burroughs re-read and I’m up to Tarzan and the Lost Empire.  Thankfully, no one can edit or mess with the glorious images in my head.









Author: Charley Brady

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  1. After I finished watching this I was left scratching my head as to what I just witnessed?.
    To say I was just a little underwhelmed would be an understatement, it almost played like a sequel?

    And yes Charley Tarzan in a trousers wtf?, and as for that other wtf moment the paedophile priest jibe?, went down like a lead balloon.

    Even the great Christoph couldn’t save this turd, having said that he’s almost typecast as the villain lately?

  2. Well, one line of thought is that it IS a sequel — to the 1984 ‘Greystoke’. But I’m not pursuing this since I hated that turkey as well (even if it was a BETTER turkey).

    As to Christophe Walz, he has just signed up to repeat his role as Blofeld in the next TWO Bond movies. That guy would want to get an agent who has heard of the word ‘diversify’. Assuming that this isn’t just the way he wants to go. But that would be a pity.

  3. He DID? Spectre would have been better if a.) Blofeld wasn’t Bond’s brother b.) He wasn’t in control as far back as Casino but simply took over after Quantum and c.) The finale was in Tunisia. Then we could have a final movie where Bond saves Madeline (thus getting the “Facing his inner demons” section) and lives happily ever after with Blofeld in jail

  4. I have to say that I loved the movie SPECTRE; I just had expected Blofeld as played by Waltz to be one of the GREAT Bond villains. And that didn’t happen.

    I totally agree that they pushed in far too much ‘backstory’ there with him. However — and I’m open to correction here as it’s a while since I read them — he appears in three of the books in all. If they’re going to eventually rehash ‘Thunderball’ and ‘You Only Live Twice’ then there’s still a very good chance for Waltz to really make this character his own.

    I still remember the shock of that sudden ending to ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ when Blofeld and Bunt (?) appear out of the blue and machine-gun Bond and his new wife, Tracy, killing the latter. A powerful moment.

    I seem to be ending my replies to you lately, Ryan, before hitting off to the cinema. In today’s case it’s the new Star Trek. I’ll hopefully have a review up soon. Really looking forward to this one…

  5. I posted a version on the forum where blofeld took over quantum after the events of Qos. White fled because Blofeld’s evil appalled even him. It would have added the twist that Bond was partially responsible for Blofeld’s rise to power.
    Waltz was great though

  6. I posted a version on the forum where blofeld took over quantum after the events of Qos. White fled because Blofeld’s evil appalled even him. It would have added the twist that Bond was partially responsible for Blofeld’s rise to power.
    Waltz was great though

  7. Bloody Hell, I remember being FASCINATED by your initial idea a couple of months ago; but I had NO CLUE that you had gone into such details. I love it when the hero turns out to be responsible for the genesis of the villain. Don’t ask me why. Symmetry or something, maybe.

    I’ll have to look through that site properly in a day or two when I get the time.

    Meanwhile, I’m taking it for granted that you’re familiar with the Wold Newton concept? In the unlikely chance that you’re not, I mentioned it here way back when:

  8. the sequel is less defined but it would have been a Swan Song to Craig’s career. It would have climaxed in Blofeld cruelly attempting to recreate Vesper’s death, but this time Bond is able to save Madeline and captures Blofeld. With the madman at his mercy, Bond turns the bastard over to the forces of justice and retires for good. His sparing Blofeld to face trial for his crimes is shown to be him abandoning the life of being a killer and finally achieving inner harmony and peace after years of torment.

    Blofeld in my version would have just been a mid ranking terrorist…..than Quantum got into trouble and Blofeld launched a takeover. White and a few others fled because even they were disgusted by Blofeld’s cruelty.

    Let’s put it this way. In one of the star wars books the master of Palpatine’s master has a vision of his apprentice dying at Palpatine’s hands. He’s horrified not just because his own plans are ruined, but the sheer EVIL of the apprentice. Basically Palpatine is so vile he appalls even sith lords.

    Blofeld is basically palpatine in that he’s so soulless that even other hardened criminals are terrified of him.

  9. Tarzan’s disney version is actually pretty good. I saw it in theaters when I was 6 and it overall was pretty good. Tarzan’s struggles are well defined and the end scene where Kerchek finally acknowledges Tarzan as his son was extremely touching

  10. I really have to get around to seeing the Disney version some day. I’ve always avoided it, thinking it would be one more disappointment; but you’re the latest person to tell me good things.

    Mind you, no way would the Kerchak/Tarzan relationship of the original novel ever have been reconciled. Tarzan’s knife to the heart was the only recipe for that big grumpy ape.

  11. True but ironically it’s more faithful in many ways

    The villain Clayton is one of the better ones and actually is a good foil (he sees himself as a gentleman but is really far more of a savage barbarian at heart vs tarzan who was raised by animals but is a good person)

  12. depends on whether you like phil collins.

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