Tarzan is a character that I like to think of as an early 20th century comic book/pulp superhero. In the books (of which I read one and a half before I lost interest), his ‘superpower’ does not stem from being bitten by a radioactive ape, but from his noble birth. His nobility is what makes him superior to, not only the apes and other jungle creatures, but also the African natives. It’s very much a product of its time and place. And most of the dramatic treatments of the stories, while somewhat modernized or Americanized, have treated him as a kind of comic book character, before the days when comic book characters were ever treated seriously. The stories and movies were fun, but never to be taken seriously. Of course, “Greystoke:The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” made a small attempt to change that, but only with limited success.
And now we have “The Legend of Tarzan”, which stars Alexander Skarsgård, as John Clayton, The Lord of Greystoke, aka “Tarzan”, Margot Robbie as Jayne, Samuel L. Jackson as George Washington Williams, an American who fought in the Civil War, and a few wars after that, and Christoph Waltz, as Leon Rum, the villain of the story.
The story opens in a time after John Clayton has returned from his adventures in the Jungle. He’s a kind of celebrity, and so its obvious that a recent invitation he’s received from the Belgian government, to come and tour the Belgian Congo is a bit of a publicity stunt. Belgium is losing money in the Congo, and there are some nasty rumors about the treatment of the native peoples there, and they want to use him to put The Congo in a better light. He meets with British government officials (who are also fellow nobles) who encourage him to take the offer. An american named George Washington Williams also encourages him to accept the offer, but for entirely different reasons. His goal is to travel with Tarzan and gather evidence that Belgium is enslaving the native population.
The actual Tarzan origin story is told briefly in a few flashbacks for those who may not be familiar with his story, or who want a brief refresher on it. That’s not the focus of this movie. It is to tell a typical Tarzan mindless adventure story. There’s no pretense, like in “Greystoke”, to be anything other than that. We learn of Tarzan’s connections to people and animals, and that he has history there, friends AND enemies. Pretty early in the film, Leon Rum tries unsuccessfully to capture Tarzan in order to sell him to one of those enemies — but he does get Jayne instead, and he intends to use her as bait to lure Tarzan into a trap.
Sure, that’s a little bit of a spoiler, but most of that can be divined simply by watching the trailers. The rest of the story is mostly action, with typical scenes of Rum menacing Jayne so that we know just how ‘evil’ he is, and of Tarzan and Williams dealing with all of the dangers of the jungle, up until the final big encounter with Rum. It’s all fun, but certainly not a deep ,or anything that can be called a quality film. But it is fun. It’s a good mindless summer popcorn movie. If you go to the theater expecting anything more than that, you will be sorely disappointed. But for good, mindless fun, you could do a lot worse. So I definitely recommend it.