“The Legend of Tarzan” offers thrills but misinterprets a principal character

I never enjoyed the idea of Tarzan. Truthfully, the cartoons played on Disney Channel when I was younger actually frightened me. I did not understand how a man could be raised by apes in the jungle and then completely change his demeanor the second a pretty damsel comes along. I had no intention of falling in love with a character who grunted to express his emotions. I also had no intention of watching “The Legend of Tarzan” when it came out in theaters, but my mother and sister wanted to see it so I begrudgingly piled into the car with them. To my surprise, “The Legend of Tarzan” was absolutely captivating.

David Yates, the director of “The Legend of Tarzan,” already captured my heart when he directed the last four movies of the Harry Potter franchise. I had high expectations of how Yates was to film Tarzan swinging on vines and fighting exotic animals in the movie. Of course, the action in the movie was right on par. I found myself wide-eyed and shaky every time Tarzan, the African tribe and George Washington Williams dived off cliffs into the unknown and ran across foot-wide branches hundreds of feet up in the forest. In one scene, Tarzan and Williams came across Tarzan’s old family of apes. Tarzan’s massive brother ape slowly appears in the distance and then challenges Tarzan to a fight for deserting the pack. Every time his brother ape brought down his mammoth fists onto Tarzan’s back, the entire audience in the theater cringed in pain almost as if they felt the same beating on their own backs.

In order for the audience to feel such sympathy for Tarzan and the other characters involved in the movie, the acting had to be of the best quality. Yates was able to work with amazingly talented actors who made the story come alive on screen. Alexander Skarsgård, famous for his roles in the hit TV series “True Blood” and the critically acclaimed movie “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” played the mighty Tarzan. Skarsgård is exactly what I imagine the real-life Tarzan to look like – towering height with long, knappy hair and muscles in places I did not know muscles could be. His lines were short and to the point, as Tarzan in the books was portrayed, so his true talent was shown through his facial and body expressions and his incredibly realistic and prominent Tarzan cry. Australian actress Margot Robbie played Jane Clayton, a woman who stood her ground. The writers, Yates and Robbie wanted to depict Jane as an independent woman who needed no help from any man, but overplayed the feminism slightly. I understand the importance of leaning away from the damsel in distress, but the fight for independence by Jane Clayton is forced into the audience’s faces a little too much.

The final character I found to be important to “The Legend of Tarzan” is George Washington Williams, played by Samuel L. Jackson. The movie is filled with history, an attribute which makes the movie even more compelling. The movie is filmed 10 years after Tarzan has left the jungle, establishing himself as Lord John Clayton, Viscount Greystoke in London, England. The Berlin Conference recently split the African continent into regions led by various European countries. King Leopold II of Belgium gains control of the African Congo, and after sending men to the region to harvest its treasures, many people, including Washington, discovers there is illegal slave labor in the region.

Williams is a real-life hero who liberated the African laborers enslaved by King Leopold and Belgium. Unfortunately, rather than shining light onto Williams and his achievements, the audience sees Tarzan as the white man liberator of the enslaved peoples because he brought Williams through the jungle. Williams served as the cheesy comic relief in the movie rather than the incredible hero he was in real life. The only time the audience sees Williams as the man of honor is in a five second clip at the end of the movie where Williams signs some measly papers. If Yates had increased the importance of Samuel L. Jackson’s character, “The Legend of Tarzan” could be the movie of the summer.

Nonetheless, “The Legend of Tarzan” offers an alternate form of entertainment on a slow summer day. In my opinion, the only large flaw in the film is the misinterpretation of George Washington Williams. Other than that, “The Legend of Tarzan” has placed Tarzan into a new light enjoyed by the masses. The grunting, monotoned Tarzan I experienced when I was younger evolves into a dynamic character filled with hero-like qualities and a love for his African home.

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