Tarzan swings (and bunts)

The Legend of Tarzan

Does the world really need another Tarzan movie?

Civilizations, attitudes and mores evolve and ideas that were perfectly acceptable in 1912 (the year Edgar Rice Burroughs penned his first of 24 novels) seem appalling today.

So how does one spin a white-supremacist tale that glorifies colonialism into something today’s movie goer will not only stomach, but will want to eat?

Well, for starters, you blame the Belgians and ask your audience to shelve a lot of their 2016 sensibilities about racism.

That said, there are a lot of things to enjoy in this film. Enchanting vistas of grasslands, jungle and wildlife combined with two beautiful and sexy leads made for some memorable eye-candy moments.

Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård was a beautiful choice to play the titular role of Tarzan. In an interview, he revealed that he spent seven months with a relentless personal trainer who not only monitored his daily workouts, but also his every meal.

The result of all that time and punishment is a spectacular physique that will make every audience member either wish they were him or wish they were with him.

I did mention eye candy already … wait for the second half of the film when he takes off his shirt. This Tarzan plays the entire second half wearing nothing but his Englishman’s dangerously low riding breeches. Who knew the transversus abdominus could look like that?

Don’t get too close, you could lose an eye.

Aside from his looks, Skarsgård brings an aura of elegance to the character of John Clayton, but we can’t help but wish we could see glimmers of the wild man underneath the façade of refinement.

For the most part, Skarsgård plays his scenes with a stoic intensity, which, frankly, gets a little dull.

However, there are a few really beautiful moments — one with Jane when he first meets her, another when he is seducing her with various wild animal mating calls and yet another when he is shown in flashback grieving his murdered gorilla mother.

Margot Robbie is absolutely lovely as Tarzan’s wife, Jane. Raised in Africa, she is plucky, daring and brave so when she refuses to call out like a “damsel in distress.” The line seems to be moot as we are well aware she’s no damsel.

She has an unwavering belief in her husband’s ability to rescue her, which is sweet and endearing. The last scene when she’s anxiously scanning the water for any sign of him is a great acting moment for her.

It is clear these two actors really liked each other and they have real chemistry together on screen.

Every action movie needs a great villain and Christopher Waltz could write a book on how to play a smiling sociopath.

His character Leon Rom (envoy to Belgium’s King Leopold and evil mastermind behind the enslavement of the Congolese people) is chilling.

Watching him handle his crucifix or eat a meal is a lesson is great acting and while some critics bemoan he’s played this type of character before, he is so spot on, I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.

Bravo, Mr. Waltz, I am officially a fan.

In an attempt to contemporize the story and steer it away from the obvious colonial elitism of the original version, we are introduced to a character, George Washington Williams, played by Samuel L. Jackson.

G.W.W. was an U.S. historic figure, a veteran of the U.S. Civil War, a minister, politician, lawyer and journalist.

In this version, he is a doctor, a necessary convention in the plot. The fact that the real G.W.W. died when he was only 42, and Jackson is old enough to play his father is beside the point.

While Jackson is likeable in this role and provides some comic relief to Tarzan’s seriousness, his line delivery is so contemporary and casual, you might expect him at any moment to start hollering about “snakes on a plane.”

 This lax form of speech is also a problem for Jane’s character and I blame the director. There is nothing wrong with asking your actors to alter their cadence and diction to suit the period of the film.

People, particularly educated people, spoke differently in the 1890s than they do now. Judging from the references to the Civil War and the fact that the real George died in 1891, I’m guessing that the film takes place in 1890, but you would never know it listening to these two. It’s distracting.

There is a distinct “lack of inner turmoil” in this Tarzan character. One of the things that makes Tarzan fascinating is that he is a “missing link” bridging that gap between human world and animal world.

In order for this paradox to work, there needs to be a real Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde dynamic to Tarzan/Lord Greystoke and that seems to be missing.

This Tarzan is equally comfortable sipping tea with a pinky extended as he is fighting his ape brother in the jungle or jumping off of cliffs into the trees. We need to see moments where he struggles between the two sensibilities and isn’t merely a bastion of calm self-assurance.

Regarding the CGI (computer generated images), don’t expect the level of artistry we just witnessed in The Jungle Book as several of these scenes are amateurish by comparison.

Despite the filmmaker’s attempts to contemporize this story with anti-racist sentiments, it is incredibly awkward and uncomfortable to see Tarzan and Jane (both dressed in white) on the shoulders of joyous tribesmen as they are paraded triumphantly through the village.

 There is just something so uncomfortably wrong about that and I’d like to think I’m only one of many in the audience who squirmed while watching it.

Hopefully, this latest installment can be the last and we can retire the character of Tarzan and place him where he belongs… in the 1890s.

This Lord of the Jungle only gets 3 hearts.


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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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