Warner Bros. 109 minutes PG-13
This film is beautiful and spectacularly scenic enough to see in IMAX 3D. Alexander Skarsgård’s performance as Tarzan is intense, and eye candy, performing shirtless showing off his 6-pack when it counts swinging from tree to tree through the plush green magnificence of The Congo. Actually, the actors never shot a frame in Africa. Director David Yates (Harry Potter) scouted locations in Africa and then built a massive set in London as the base for a CGI tour of Tarzan’s jungle. And they used a Cirque du Soleil trapeze artist as a model for Tarzan swinging on those vines through the trees. It’s pretty exciting stuff. Even Samuel L. Jackson as Tarzan’s sidekick in this film, did some stunts. “We will be swinging from trees, crocs, fighting, running, and (there are) beautiful tribal people. It’s a visual feast!”
The biggest problem is that although set in the late 1800s, the language, jokes, and personalities are too contemporary for the story. That said, it’s still beautiful to watch and there’s even a pretty good love story between Tarzan and Jane played by the spunky Margot Robbie.
We get flashbacks of Tarzan’s backstory. Born John Clayton, he became an orphan when his parents, Lord and Lady Clayton were killed in The Congo and raised by apes. He met and married Jane, and went back to Greystoke Manor to work with the government. Clayton is requested to negotiate a treaty in The Congo. Jane insists on going along to see their friends and adopted relatives. She gets kidnapped and Tarzan is hellbent on getting her back, no matter what he has to do to find her. Skarsgard says he wanted to gain weight for the part to be more like Johnny Weismuller, the jungle icon he saw in movies he used to watch with his Dad. But he knew he had to be able to move like an animal and says he had to work a lot on being agile and flexible, which was difficult for him.
He gets pummeled by apes, beat up by African tribesmen, and taken within an inch of his life by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a greedy bad guy who isn’t as religious as he seems. Greedy Congolese King Leopold is amassing his personal fortune through diamond mining there using slaves. Mbonga (Played by Kjimon Hounsou) is the tribal chief who also owns big diamond mines. He still holds a grudge against Tarzan and is happy to work with Leon Rom played by ever-the-good-bad-guy, Chrisoph Waltz. If Rom gets Tarzan to set foot in Mbonga territory, the chief will murder Tarzan and shower Rom with diamonds. Game on!
Waltz praises Director David Yates for the way he took on the project. “The idea to have a movie set this vast, and the buildings that extreme, gorgeous with waterfalls, rivers, jungles, cities, is almost unfathomable.”
Director David Yates put together a great cast, but the dialogue and jokes are just too “now” to be completely believable. Samuel L. Jackson is always good, but way too now. He plays George Washington Williams, an actual historical figure who fought against slavery. He fought in the American Civil War and had pangs of regret for fighting and helping to decimate American Indian tribes. Here, he becomes Tarzan’s sidekick helping him track down Rom and rescue Jane.
Jackson is funny and always fun to watch. Jackson says he knew what he was getting into when he took on the role, but as a result of the training to do some of the stunts, he says it really “caused him to change his “physical regime.”
Skarsgard declared it an honor to work with the actor, calling him “Just the coolest guy in the world…so laid back, no ego, the most generous actor. It’s always about the story, it’s not about him.” Director Yates says he wanted Sam “because if you’re telling a story about a very troubled part of African history, I wanted someone with grace, power, authority and wit. Sam has all those qualities to the max. He’s got real nobility.”
Margot Robbie as Jane also trained a lot for her first action film and had fun doing it. She wanted Jane to be feisty and Director Yates wanted her to be “fiery.” She wanted to show she was no damsel in distress but be tough and fight back. She does very well. She and Skarsgård also do pretty well portraying Tarzan and Jane’s love story. But she says the first time the actors met to see if they had chemistry, she was shocked by his height. He is “SO tall!”
Is this worth your bucks? This is a beautiful film with a lot to look at. The special effects against overhead shots and lush, magnificent vistas swinging through the trees, plus Tarzan’s interaction with primates, cats, elephants, ostriches, and more are breathtaking. The pacing is good and like any African adventure, interaction with the animals, native tribes and the elements can get pretty scary. There are heart pounding battles with angry apes that are pretty close to watching Leonardo tangle with The Revenant Bear. But fortunately, because Tarzan knows the ropes, so to speak, you know he’s got a pretty good chance of beating the odds, despite the fact that it’s a jungle out there.