Imagine growing up in the wild, achieving the ability to swing on trees, learning to communicate with animals, and commanding the jungle whilst having the strength to defend the land from undesirable humans. Worlds apart from your day job, why Tarzan is defined as a legend in the fictional world, and how he has managed to live on in different media forms which depict different eras of his life.
This is another version of Tarzan’s story, but one where he has already left the jungle and appears to be accustomed to everyday human life. Going by the name of John Clayton III, he is invited back to the Congo, but unaware of the fact that he is a pawn in a deadly convergence of greed and revenge, masterminded by Belgian Captain Leon Rom.
I did detect at the opening of the film that Tarzan was not a very stimulating on-screen character, but he does get stronger as the film progresses with his ability to take on the wild in incredible fashion. His very quiet starting approach provides a sombre feel to it, but maybe it was the director’s portrayal of a man struggling to get accustomed to human ways; it is well described in the stories that Tarzan begins to dismiss society to return to the wild. Due to the long slow burn of Tarzan getting interesting Jane Clayton and the evil protagonist Leon Rom have a much more alluring on-screen presence.
Christoph Waltz’s performance as the villain is applaudable, and the most incontestable piece of acting in the feature. His character looks so comfortable playing out the events, and he appears to add distinction to the role with certainty. Margot Robbie suits Jane well, but I did not feel the chemistry between herself and Tarzan. It lacked a bit of spark and they could have perhaps developed the script more closely to allow the two to become more intimate. Again, this is maybe because of the era in Tarzan’s life, but I expected a bit more magic behind their relationship. Samuel L. Jackson performs how you expect him to perform – if I say he acts like Samuel L. Jackson, then you know what I mean. His lines are fun, quick-witted, straight to the point, and work within the character he is taking on. His character, George Washington Williams, is actually a momentous figure in history, and I urge you to read about him, as it provides more depth to the film and the history of the Congo Free State. The more you research the character you realise he is significantly overlooked as a slave trade hero that has not made the major history books. I urge you to look into him after you have seen the film to understand the opportunity lost on this character and if you have more time then read the letter he wrote at the time he was conducting an enquiry into the Congo.
A lot of criticism was aimed at how Tarzan has the prowess to attack and swing through the wild as if he was a superhero, and I have to fully disagree with those comments. This was not over played, and I feel the action scenes were a thrill to watch. They were not over the top but they did not feel unrealistic either. The CGI was done in just the right texture to the film; it did not feel out of place and it matched the ambience and setting.
A popular criticism was how the film handles the racism issue. Previous stories of Tarzan have been heavily criticised for putting Africans and Arabs in a negative light. What is confusing is that the recent stories do not initiate racism yet this film does seem to tackle the issues that have been present in some of the stories. It is obvious in that they are trying to put Africans in a good light but almost to the point where they over play it slightly. It does not damage the core narrative but it does provide this message that “Tarzan is not a racist story”. I did not go to the cinemas to watch an apology piece for the previous stories and to be honest, I was very much unaware of the controversies in the past. I do not think they needed to overplay this. On the flip side, you do witness another perspective of the transatlantic slave trade, which portrays Belgium’s role in the ordeal. So whilst it sometimes feels overdone in putting Africans in a good light it becomes interesting in seeing another viewpoint in history and not just through the scope of the UK. The history of the slave trade and Belgium’s involvement provides an interesting subplot to the film, and I invite anyone to debate this with me and to read into it. The historical elements of this film should not be ignored, and I feel should be praised. Some critics have failed to realise this aspect in their reviews and instead made audience goers feel that it is just an apology piece. I do not think that Tarzan as a story needs to apologise anymore.
Does this Tarzan story ignite a new generation of films? In my opinion, no. The film feels like a one-off and in all honesty, I did not leave the cinemas craving for a sequel. It was interesting that they have tried resurfacing Tarzan after he left the wild to try to take on human society, but a part of me wanted to see a modern adaptation of him growing up in the jungle and becoming who he is now. I think they had an opportunity here to provide an in-depth character that could have started a series of films but with this, you get a one-off story about Tarzan’s life and nothing more.
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Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.