Any old property gets a reboot these days as studios desperately seek the next franchise. Indeed, they’re all after a cosy long run, actors, agents, sfx guys, directors.
Tarzan has always been one of cinema and TV’s most popular characters but his white man hero status looks loin cloth skimpy in these days of post-colonial reassessment. The fact that he’s a the only caucasian in the jungle and has figured out how to talk to the animals when all the millions of black natives haven’t is frankly more and more preposterous and insulting.
So given the chance to re-invent Tarzan**, it’s a pity this new one swings back onto our screens with so little regard to modernity. At least there’s a hint of white man guilt – this Tarzan starts at his manor in London as Lord Greystoke is lured back into the jungle by a black American activist played by Samuel L Jackson, on the promise, supported by the British government, to stop King Leopold of Belgium from enslaving the natives of the Congo and exploiting the land for diamonds and ivory.
Leopold’s chief emissary in the Congo is Leon Rum, a real life figure (and said to be the inspiration for Kurtz in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, later Brando in Apocalypse Now) who is now played by moustache twiddler par excellence Christoph Waltz.
Grey stoke has taken his Jane with him, Margot Robbie, who does a lot of smiling and tries hard to look feisty all while she’s buttoned up in very demure costumes. What’s the point of that? Jane was always sexy – Maureen O Sullivan, wow – and the carnal lust between them was always to the fore, so I’ve no idea why this version had to be so tame, especially when Robbie was such a sexy success in Wolf of Wall Street.
Tarzan is played by Alexander Skarsgard, who may have a washboard stomach, but unfortunately it refers to the rest of his personality too.
He and Jane go back to their old village where cheering spear carriers welcome them back to the jungle. It isn[’t really as if the call of the wild inspired Tarzan to mutate or anything. He merely sets about heading off Rum on a railroad and eventually faces off some angry gorillas. Sure, there are some swinging action sequences, but so much is CGI that there feels very little to admire or gasp at.
The Jungle Book did this stuff much better and more charmingly earlier this year and by the time one of several climaxes arrive (one of which involves, almost inevitably yet depressingly Djimon Honsou in a scary lion headress) the whole thing feels rushed and dodgy, politically and cinematically.