I’ve seen dozens of Tarzan iterations over the years, but I was still confused trying to follow this one. What I think happens is that we start out meeting Tarzan as a gentleman in England, living as Lord Greystoke, the jungle far behind him. But then his government asks him to go back to the Congo to act as some sort of diplomat, and his beloved wife Jane follows him. Then we start with the flashbacks – to his infancy when his parents are lost and he becomes an adopted beast of the jungle, and also to his first wild meetings with Jane.
Things go badly for Lord Greystoke during his comeback tour. Evil Christoph Waltz is embroiled in slavery and blood diamonds, determined to make his monarch extremely wealthy. To get to Tarzan, he of course kidnaps Jane. Christoph Waltz has played versions of the same character over and over since he won the Oscar for it in Inglorious Basterds. It doesn’t work here and hasn’t worked in a while, but he’ll keep getting typecast, and we’ll keep suffering. But there’s a trade-off: Samuel L. Jackson is our comic relief, and he’s almost too good at it, stealing scenes from Tarzan himself.
It seems like this Tarzan movie wants to modernize somewhat, with a social conscience, which is good, or at least would have been had Tarzan not been inevitably cast as the great white saviour, swinging from the trees.
It also wants to be a superhero movie with proper villains and ultimate fight sequences – but with Tarzan’s superpower and only weapon being his amazing 8-pack abs. People love to talk about those abs. Poor Alexander Skarsgard worked out 6-7 days a week for months while consuming 7000 calories a day, and then UPPED the workouts to fourteen times a week while drastically cutting his caloric intake. Sounds brutal. I would be having veritable taco hallucinations. But that’s 6 months or more perfecting his physique (and what was wrong with it to begin with, I wonder? He wasn’t exactly known for being a slouch), and maybe 10 days of memorizing his lines, and that’s “acting.” To be fair, Skarsgard isn’t really the problem here, but he’s also not much of a help. He’s surrounded by 2 Oscar winners and 2 more nominees. If Tarzan is the weak link in your Tarzan movie, your Tarzan movie’s got a problem. And as pretty as he looks, I did wonder how it was that Lord Greystoke, so long removed from the jungle, still had that amazing King of the Jungle body. Jane’s cooking must really suck. Were there even gyms in 1880s England?
I never stopped being frustrated by the hazy flashbacks – why does this feel like a sequel to a movie that was never made? And Skarsgard never found his footing. And Robbie remains a damsel, even though script writers covered their asses by pretending she was a little more feminist, the reality is that she spends most of the movie tied up. It’s too bad it’s not a better movie, but there’s never been a really good Tarzan movie, so why start now?