Picoreview: The Legend of Tarzan: Unexpectedly good!
Now, I grant you that it’s possible my expectations going in were *so low* that anything that didn’t make me hide behind my hands and moan with the horror of it all was going to be unexpectedly good, but honestly, I really enjoyed it. I would watch more of those, and not just because Alexander Skarsgård spends a gratifyingly large percentage of the film with his shirt off (although sweet mistress of the moon, that doesn’t hurt. he’s really beautiful in this movie.).
But, okay, so here’s the thing:
It’s a Tarzan story. It’s inspired by books that are a hundred years old, and it wants to be recognizeably *of* those books. That means it’s pretty much “What These People Need Is A Honky,” and it’s my opinion that you can’t really take that away without completely divorcing it from the source material so thoroughly that it’s no longer the thing you’re advertising it as. So I have to say that I start by accepting that it’s an inherently problematic premise.
That said, it felt to me like as bang-up, respectful a job of a WTPNIAH story as is possible.
It’s a film set mostly in Africa that’s actually full of African people who have lines and opinions and, indeed, personalities even if they have no lines. (There’s one young man, I think the actor is Ashley Byam, who is so charismatic it practically hurts. I would watch him in *anything*, dear *lord*.) They’re only ever condescended to by the bad guys, and they deliver more than one slap-down in the face of that condescension.
There’s a moment in the film where Tarzan makes a plan, has an amendment suggested by one of the African tribe members, and goes “okay” without hesitation, which is not generally how these things work in movies. It was, to me, extremely like the moment in Fury Road where Furiosa changes routes, a guy says to her “What’s up,” she says “Change of plans,” and he’s just like, “Okay! Change of plans!” which also never, ever happens in film: women are always argued with (see: ALL of Jurassic World) and white heroes among the natives always have the better plans. But I thought there were a lot of moments like that, and moments where it’s not…I mean, yes, it’s White Man Tarzan Swooping In For The Rescue, but it’s also equally Inhuman Wild Man Tarzan Clearing A Path which allows ordinary mortals (including Jane and Samuel L Jackson’s American soldier, George Washington Williams, but equally often, the tribal members) to achieve the actual goal. And so *flails*, again, yes, WTPNIAH, but equally What These People Need Is A Superhero. It *worked* for me. It worked *well* for me, given the constraints of what makes a Tarzan story.
Margot Robbie doesn’t have a great deal to do as Jane, but she repeatedly does well with what she’s got. She’s a vastly more vibrant character than Tarzan, honestly, happier in Africa for reasons that make sense in the context of the story (she’s not the one trying to wear a human suit that doesn’t fit especially well), and she’s *fierce*. I’d pay to watch a Jane film, honestly. Jackson was a lot of fun as the American totally unsure of how to deal with Tarzan’s wild skills, and he’s given a bit of backstory that comes from somewhere less obvious than I’d expected, which was cool.
The CGI was mostly good, the scenery was gorgeous, I liked the *costuming* (and I’m not just talking about Skarsgård running around half naked for two-thirds of the film), and just overall I was unexpectedly delighted with it. I hope it makes tons of money, because I’d genuinely love to see more.