Possible spoilers ahead!
“The Legend of Tarzan” revolves around a retired Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) who is now living an aristocrat’s life in England as John Clayton, 3rd Viscount Greystoke, with his wife Jane Porter (Margot Robbie).
Tarzan is approached by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), a U.S. Civil War veteran who wants Tarzan to accompany him to the Congo as a trade emissary of the House of Commons. Later in private, Williams informs Tarzan that his true intention is to use the Ape-Man’s fame as a means for him to investigate what’s really happening in the region of the Congo now under the control by the army of Belgium King Leopold II.
Within a few days, Tarzan, Jane, and Williams secretly make their way into the Congo without being accompanied by the Belgium forces, it doesn’t take long for Captain Léon Rom (Christopher Waltz) – who is overseeing King Leopold’s operations there – to realize that the trio is suspicious of what he and Leopold’s army are really up to: enslaving the locals and exploiting the region for its vast supply of diamonds.
With thousands of hired mercenaries on their way to the Congo to support Rom in his campaign, Tarzan, Jane, and Williams must race against time to stop the Captain Rom before his army arrives in full.
“Legend of Tarzan” is the latest movie installment based on the characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs over a century ago. There have been plenty of Tarzan movies over decades, more recently the animated kind. Some were very good, like the Disney animated movie from 1999. While others, not so much (see the 2013 3D animated movie). But its been a while since I’ve seen a good live action Tarzan movie.
In a strange way, “Legend of Tarzan” is really two movies in one. In flashbacks, we get his origin story, from how his family ende dup in the jungle, to the first time he met Jane. I thought the flashbacks were handled very well, and they all added something to the overall plot. And that fist meeting with Jane got a good reaction from the audience.
The other movie within Legend is almost a buddy adventure that integrates the Lord of the Apes into a real-life historical event: George Washington Williams’ investigation of the region of the Congo controlled by King Leopold II during the late 19th century.
I know some critics and fans will complain about the two stories used in the movie. But I felt like neither story would have worked without the other. If we didn’t see the flashbacks, then we’d never know about Tarzan’s connection to the people and animals of the Congo. Nor would we have understood Jane’s toughness and courage if we didn’t see her in the flashbacks.
Director David Yates and cinematographer Henry Braham give us several gorgeous panoramas of actual African mountains and landscapes. This is one beautiful movie to look at. There are also a number of visually slick action sequences in “Legend of Tarzan” and even the quieter scenes (like the dinner scene between Margot Robbie and Christopher Waltz) work rather well.
Speaking of smaller scenes, one of my favorite scenes in the film came early on when Jane is sitting in a tree and Tarzan later joins her. It was a very simple scene, but it was shot beautifully and established how much respect this Tarzan had for Jane.
Alexander Skarsgård and Samuel L. Jackson play two very different warriors. Both are tired of the fighting, but do so for the greater good. Skarsgård pulled off a perfect broody Tarzan, and he definitely looks the part.
Jackson makes George Washington Williams a compelling and charismatic hero to follow. You like him from the moment you meet him in London, and you cheer them as the friendship between Tarzan and Williams develops during their trip. For what its worth: this is one of Samuel L. Jackson’s better acting performances.
And what can I say about Margot Robbie? I think 2016 will go down as the year she proved she play any part, in any genre, and that makes her an acting force to be reckoned with.
As for Christoph Waltz as the evil (but charismatic) Captain Léon Rom: he’s a satisfactory villain in the movie, but let’s face it: we’ve all seen Waltz play this part too often now.
Look, I will be the first to admit that “The Legend of Tarzan” isn’t a perfect movie,the script could be a little sharper, and some of the film’s plotlines should have been explored more. But at the end of the day “The Legend of Tarzan” is by far my favorite Tarzan movie ever and my top movie of 2016 so far.
Margot Robbie final score: 10
“The Legend of Tarzan” final score: 8.5