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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jul 8, 2016

Legend Of Tarzan Movie Review: Offers Thrilling Action-Adventure Popcorn Entertainment

THE FIRST Tarzan book by Edgar Rice Burroughs appeared in 1912, “Tarzan of the Apes”. It was such a hit that a total of 38 Tarzan books chronicling the Ape Man’s various adventures followed. The first Tarzan movie was made in 1918 starring Elmo Lincoln, other Tarzan flicks followed but the version of Johnny Weissmuller, “Tarzan the Ape Man”, made in 1932, was the biggest hit.

Since then, more than 50 Tarzan movies have been made, plus a stage musical based on a full length Disney animated feature and some TV series starring Ron Ely and later, Wolf Larson and Travis Fimmel. There was also an animated cartoon series and even a spin off, “George of the Jungle”, which starred a buffed Brendan Fraser who has since faded away. The late Dolphy also played a local version, “Tansan The Mighty”, and even porn actor Rocco Siffredi also has his own version.

Other actors who we remember playing Tarzan include Lex Barker, Jock Mahoney, Gordon Scott, Miles O’Keefe, Joe Lara, Christopher Lambert, Casper Van Dien and we now have the latest Tarzan, Alexander Skarsgard (of “True Blood”) in “The Legend of Tarzan”. The new Tarzan flick is directed by David Yates, who did four Harry Potter flicks including the “Deathly Hallows” finale and is now doing a new spin off, “Fantastic Beasts” with Eddie Redmayne. He basically keeps the background material intact but offers a fresh angle and makes it not just another origin story of the original feral child.

How Tarzan’s story began, including his initial meeting with Jane, is just shown in brief flashbacks superbly incorporated into the main narrative without being distracting or intrusive. The movie starts in the late 19th century, with Lord Greystoke John Clayton now living in London with his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie). His life in the jungle is far behind as he has become a cultured and refined aristocratic member of the British royalty.

In the Congo, the scheming Captain Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz, effortlessly menacing as always), working for the greedy King Leopold of Belgium, is capturing natives for slavery. He also wants to conquer the Congo for its diamonds, but he could only do this if he could hand Tarzan over to a vengeful tribal chief (Djimon Hounsou), whose son was killed by Tarzan many years ago.

King Leopold’s invitation for Tarzan to visit the Congo is rejected by Lord Greystoke, but an American Civil War veteran, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), is able to convince him to leave his English estate and return to Africa, where he was raised, to combat slavery and colonialism. His wife Jane insists to join him.

Jane here is not the usual damsel in distress but a very modern woman who’s courageous and action-oriented. But soon after their arrival, they encounter Rom’s henchmen and Jane is captured while Tarzan nearly gets killed. The rest of the movie shows Tarzan running after the boat where Jane is in chains, until the action-filled climax at Port Boma where Tarzan summons the help of his animal friends to rampage through the camp of invading mercenaries.

The ripped Skarsgard is well cast as the new Apeman. This is his biggest assignment to date and he makes the most of it. Nordic looking and very tall, he easily stands out among his English peers and perfectly looks like the fish out of water that Tarzan is meant to be. Robbie as Jane is very photogenic on screen and has good moments of her own. But the real scene-stealer here is Samuel L. Jackson who provides comic relief with his hilarious one-liners as Tarzan’s unlikely sidekick who saves him from his foes a couple of times.

Recycling heroes and superheroes from the past is standard in Hollywood, which is why we have several versions of Batman, Superman, Spiderman, etc. Sometimes, they come up with a winner, like in the Zorro and Captain America movies. More often, they come up with bombs, like “The Lone Ranger” with Johnny Depp as Tonto which failed miserably, the recent versions of “The Incredible Hulk”, “Daredevil” (which has now become a bigger success on TV), “Judge Dredd”, “Green Lantern”, “Elektra” and the last “Fantastic Four” edition.

Considering that we’ve seen various Tarzan flicks before, “The Legend of Tarzan” certainly does a better job than even those aforementioned hero flicks. The cinematography offers majestic vistas of the Congo and lush romantic imagery like that beautifully exotic river where you somewhat expect the African Queen with Bogart to drift down soon. You know the animals are CGI, just like in “Jungle Book”, but there’s something brilliant in the way that human-animal interaction is portrayed, even in the fight and chase sequences.

The amazing camera work shows long takes and unbroken shots where it’s hard to tell if all the thrilling action, like the furious vine-swinging, is done by CGI or by stuntmen, but it’s all excitingly presented. The story really moves swiftly and compared to the other big summer movies of 2016, this Ape Man update offers fairly engaging escapist popcorn entertainment.