The story of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, has been told countless times but at its heart, it’s a love story. A baby is orphaned on an island but is saved by the love of a mother ape. His love for a woman (Jane Porter) brings him back to civilization, but Tarzan’s love of the jungle ultimately sends him home. Bad-guys and storylines are interchangeable, but the basic message of love always stays the same.
The Legend of Tarzan changes the standard this time, by giving Tarzan a partner AND inserting a history lesson. Samuel L. Jackson plays George Washington Williams, who joins Alexander Skarsgard’s Tarzan in the search for bad-guy Captain Rom (played by Christoph Waltz). Williams was a real-life Civil War hero who later became a journalist and activist. He also toured the Congo and was greatly disturbed by what he saw there. Williams even published an open letter to King Leopold, admonishing him for enslaving his people.
George Washington Williams is an important but largely unknown American, so it’s cool to see him written into the story and played by Samuel L. Jackson. If you don’t know this though, it’s weird watching Jackson follow Tarzan through the jungle because that’s all he really does, and not always gracefully.
Skarsgard is convincing enough as Tarzan, but gorgeous to the point of distraction. There were audible gasps in the audience the first time he doffed his shirt and no, it wasn’t just me. He has a sly wit too but, being Tarzan, it’s mostly conveyed without words. Christoph Waltz is a great villain but he’s essentially playing the same character on repeat. Waltz needs to learn how to say NO before taking on another bad-guy role. Margot Robbie is adorable as Jane Porter, like usual, and her scenes with Skarsgard are blistering. I’d read about intense love-scenes that were filmed between the two (I was RESEARCHING, of course) but most of that was apparently edited out.
I’m afraid the CGI isn’t top notch though, and that’s not a good thing for a movie that leans so heavily on it. The entire climax is based on green-screened action, so the resolution feels hollow. The Legend of Tarzan is also plagued by awkward editing and I occasionally couldn’t tell who was shooting at whom. The relationship between Tarzan and George Washington Williams feels forced as well, and could have used additional writing.
I still liked The Legend of Tarzan despite these hiccups, and enjoyed the old-school Adventure Love-Story it tells. I appreciate the fact that they tried to give us a history lesson as well, even if George Washington Williams didn’t actually ride the vines with Tarzan. Just keep your expectations low with this one, and if you get distracted by the wonky CGI, remember to start counting the abs. –C+