Tarzan quickly became a sensation soon after the stories about him appeared in pulp magazines in 1912. Created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the character soon became a cultural icon and was featured in a series of bestselling novels, more than 200 movies, and a myriad of consumer products.
According to the stories by Burroughs, Tarzan, aka John Clayton, was the son of a married pair of British aristocrats who died in Africa when their boy was an infant. The baby was found and raised in the wild by apes and he learned to speak the language of all the beasts in the jungle.
Moreover, as the “Lord of the Jungle,” he had dominion over the animal kingdom and also over cannibalistic tribes that were eager to rape white women and boil missionaries in a big pot. That insensitive portrayal of Africans as evil and uncivilized eventually became controversial in more enlightened times and Tarzan subsequently declined in popularity.
Now however, he’s been brought back to the big screen. Directed by David Yates (Harry Potter 5, 6, 7 and 8) The Legend of Tarzan portrays a more politically correct version of the Lord of the Jungle.
Set in 1884, the film stars Alexander Skarsgard in the title role and Samuel L. Jackson as his sophisticated sidekick, Dr. George Washington Williams. The American doctor was shoehorned into the story in order to offset the images of the indigenous black tribes.
At the point of departure, we find Tarzan and wife Jane (Margot Robbie) living in London as Lord and Lady Greystoke, and it has apparently been a long time since Tarzan lived in Africa.
When invited by Parliament to serve as a trade emissary, Lord Greystoke leaps at the chance to return to the Congo. What Tarzan doesn’t know is that he is a pawn in a plot masterminded by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a diabolical villain who is dealing in blood diamonds.
Upon arriving, it doesn’t take long for Tarzan to revert from a proper English gentleman to the feral vine swinger who can summon a thundering herd of elephants with his signature call.
Very Good (***). Rated PG-13 for action, violence, sensuality, and crude dialogue. Running time: 109 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures.