NEWBIES: If this is your first trip here (welcome!), here’s the QT on what these reviews are. THIS WEEK: The first 21st-century live-action entry in the 114-year-old Tarzan franchise. In 1890, John Clayton, aka Lord Greystoke, aka Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), travels from England back to his African Congo home with wife Lady Jane Clayton (Margot “Harley Quinn” Robbie) and US historian/soldier George Washington Williams (Samuel “Nick Fury” Jackson) to investigate/stop a slave/diamond operation while being hunted/harassed by Belgian bad guy Leon Rom (Christoph “Green Hornet/SPECTRE” Waltz no relation to Rom the Spaceknight)
Screenplay by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, based on stories by Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB). Directed by David “Harry Potter” Yates.
• Visually, as you’d expect, this is stunningly gorgeous. If you liked the new Jungle Book, this is right up there in terms of scenery and cinematography, though with not quite as many of the panoramic, take-yer-breath-away shots. But the camera techniques and stuff are very cool overall.
• Good characterizations. Sam Jackson is his usually awesome, down-to-earth, no-BS, occasionally hilarious self, Robbie is a 21st-century-strong woman (thankfully who does not do martial arts like she does will in Suicide Squad) and Skarsgård has a quietly dignified-but-crazy-wild-when-needed, young Christopher “Highlander” Lambert vibe about him. And of course, few can play mean, OCD-psycho villains like Waltz. Added bonuses: the excellent African natives, especially the two chiefs (one played by Djimon “Guardians Of The Galaxy” Hounsou), plus Casper “Vandal Savage” Crump finally getting what every viewer of Legends Of Tomorrow wanted to see all season long.
“…ripped like a flayed steak.”
• For the ladies (and gay dudes), Tarzan is ripped like a flayed steak, and shows off his mighty-muscled torso from below the belly-button up. He definitely looks like an ape-man who could kick gorilla butt.
• His deep connection with jungle animals is on display, but in a non-Dr.-Doolittle way. The animal CG is pretty well done in some places.
• We get a new version of the trademark Tarzan yell, tastefully done off-screen.
• The story has some basis in fact. Jackson’s George Washington Williams was a real guy: a Christian minister, politician, lawyer, journalist and historian. He really did go to the Congo at the request of President Harrison to investigate Belgian slavery. He also wrote letters of protest to the Belgian government, in addition to writing several famous tomes regarding the history of black people in the US.
• I never read any of the ERB novels (MIKE: and I haven’t read the DC or Marvel adaptations in probably 20 years) so I can’t comment on how close the film comes, but most ERB fans have been positive about it, and the famous “jewels of Opar” play a part.
• The love between Tarzan and Jane is clear and romantic without being over-the-top or too cliché. And thank God, there’s no “Me Tarzan, you Jane” dialog (other than the bad guy mocking them as a nod to it).
• The scenes of swinging through the jungle at times equal those of Spidey in the city in the best web-slinger films. As dense as the jungle is, you accept it and really get the feel of what it would be like.
• Some spectacular and vis…err, what’s the word? (MIKE: “visceral”) Yeah, that’s it. Spectacular and awesome group battle scenes and visceral one-on-ones, both with dudes and animals.
• Unlike some past films, the ape-man’s origin and how he met Jane is told in short flashback pieces so it doesn’t bog down the main story. (Although we don’t really see how the love relationship grows or develops.)
• Like most every other Tarzan flick I’ve seen, it starts slow. Takes a long time before we even get to the big man swinging or fighting.
• Speaking of swinging, there was far too little of the tree-action for me. Less walking and running, more swinging, please. It’s friggin’ Tarzan!
• The CG for some of the animals wasn’t as good as Jungle Book. (As I mentioned in that review, we’ve become so used to blow-us-away stuff now that anything that’s just “state-of-the-art” is disappointing.) And I thought the simians in the new Planet Of The Apes films were better done. (Maybe because those were motion-capture?)
• Tarzan is the light-haired version of other movies, not the dark-haired version of the novels or the comics. (MIKE: See Hal Foster, Frank Frazetta, Burne Hogarth, Joe Kubert, Russ Manning, John Buscema, Neal Adams, Jesse Marsh, et al.) He’s got the great English lord look, but not the jungle savage thing.
• The yell is okay, but sorry, nothing has ever (or probably will ever) beat Johnny Weissmuller’sclassic. Even 21st-century digital technology can’t match it! (Actually, there are many, many stories behind who created that yell.)
• We only get one real shot of Tarzan in his traditional loincloth. Most of the time he’s just wearing pants (which makes sense since it’s what he’s wearing on his voyage—I don’t think he packs a nut-bag for trips).
• Though Jane is shown in a soaked, skin-tight dress, we never get to see her in the same sate of undress as her jungle boy. Boooo!!
• Tarzan never vocally speaks to the animals like he does in the comics or books, nor does he have his usual knife. He never gets an ape or lion in a full nelson like in all the comics or paintings. He doesn’t use any of the ERB names like Tantor or Numa. And every elementary-schoolkid knows that a hippopotamus is a vegetarian and won’t suddenly chase after people to chomp on ’em!
• You will definitely have to suspend some disbelief in: 1) the idea that modifying the bone structure of one’s knuckles will enable a human to run on all fours like an ape (thankfully that visual was edited out because of how goofy it would look), 2) the kind of punishment a non-superhero can take and recover from (and quickly) and 3) the usual “what a coincidence” stuff, like conveniently finding one fleeing person in a dense rain forest.
• No buttons at all during or after the credits.
I didn’t see it in 3D or IMAX so no idea if it would be worth it. You’ll definitely miss the spectacle of some shots by viewing at home, so if you’re a major cinematography (or Tarzan) fan, go to the theater. But I’d rather watch this at home so I can pause/rewind it a bunch of times for the cool shots and battle scenes (and anything I might miss that goes by quickly). Which is a good thing. Definitely one of the best Tarzan films, but “the” best? There’s just too many to watch and re watch to decide…so it’s up to you, tarmangani and gomangani! Now unk!*
* “unk” means “go” in Mangani (Great Ape language).
P.S.: Of all the different versions of Tarzan, the one you need is Pascale’s! Get some ORIGINAL ART good ’n’ fast. Just ask Craig here.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed herein are not necessarily those of Wednesday’s Heroes, Mike Pascale, mangani of any type, monkeys or other jungle animals, or the English or Belgians. Bru would like to try wearing a loincloth, but preferably one with little beer bottles on it. He often tries the Tarzan yell in the bathroom, depending on what he previously had for dinner. He can often be heard saying, “Me Bru-Hed. You beer. I drink you!”