The Lord of the Jungle would like you to understand a few rules of the wild: 1) Big apes hit hard, so flex harder; 2) Decomposing ants double as staples and are a trustworthy disinfectant; 3) Shirts aren’t necessary, pants are… optional; 4) The fastest way to fix a dislocated shoulder is to tucker it out with furious exercise; 5) No tailcoat, no shoes, no tea service. Now that’s a list I will drink to! Earl Grey, two drops of honey, please.
You may remember him as the tanned savage who falls in love with an inappropriately dressed Englishwoman while his ape friends tear her home apart to the accompaniment of Phil Collins. Well get ready as The Legend of Tarzan swings its hero back into our lives as a pasty Swede with a slow English accent. The great and mythical Tarzan is now an Englishman by the name of Lord John Clayton the Third (Alexander Skarsgård), and is living a comfortable life in a well-tailored suit under the roof of his family’s manor house. He has no desire to go back to Africa because, in his experienced opinion, the Congo “is hot.” It is a damn good thing for the plot that his American wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), is extremely persuasive. The couple travel back to the Congo, on Royal Invitation, to visit schools and fascinate the locals. Deciding that this plan is totally lame, however, John and Jane give their party the slip and trek back to the village where they first met. This throws Rom’s (Christoph Waltz) scheme for a loop. This evil white guy had planned to lure Tarzan into the death-grip of the revenge-seeking Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou). In return for a job well done, Rom would receive a barrel of diamonds with which he could fund His Majesty’s army, promote the slave trade, destroy all culture, and probably kick a few puppies.
In the slowest strip tease the humid African jungle has ever seen, John takes his time to return to his roots. His stunts get ever more daring while his sidekick and comedy relief backpack, Dr. George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), re-evaluates his life choices. George’s breaking point should have been when John swan-dives off a cliff, trusting gravity to see him safely through. Nnnnnnnope. Or maybe when John accidentally sparks a bromantic moment on a hanging vine. Mmmmmmaybe. It’s fair enough to say that this George of the Jungle is the man with the gun, and that no one blames John for trying to lose him in the brush.
Meanwhile the breathtakingly stunning Jane is chained to a boat deck with a crew of hungry men and their ravenous dedication to leaving her alone. Margot Robbie, although clearly cast as the one in need of rescuing, spits on your idea of “damsel in distress”. She would be equally happy to stab you at the dinner table as she would be to knock you out with a Colgate smile.
The Legend of Tarzan is not the classic Tarzan story but a kind of epilogue gone rogue. The idea (jungle man + beautiful woman + sinister white man = story) stands firm throughout, but the details surrounding that idea get a little foggy. Lessons that should not be absorbed from The Legend of Tarzan include: 1) Mother elephants don’t like it when you pet their young; 2) That space you’re pointing to on the continental map is much further than a three-day walk; 3) The right to command a kingdom of African beasts belongs to Mufasa alone; 4) Those tribes who have been feuding for hundreds of years aren’t going to join hands like the Whos from Whoville over the sinking of one steamboat. Tie it all off with Dr. George swapping his belt of ammunition for a two-shot riffle, and the foreign buyer floating into the scene like a heat-stroked Paddington Bear, and you get one movie that hasn’t quite figured out its priorities.
Maybe you’d like to see The Legend of Tarzan because The Jungle Book put you in the mood. Maybe you’d like to see it because there can never be too many computer generated animals. Or maybe you’re just on board for the spectacular… view. Whatever the reason, go in with low expectations and a poorly suppressed case of the giggles and you’ll do just fine. The Legend of Tarzan is a movie to watch with friends and laugh at the unintentional ridiculousness (think Jurassic World with a touch more treehouse). This swinging jungle call is a 5.5/10.