The Kingman Daily Miner Logo
Trusted local news leader for Kingman, Arizona & Mohave County
12:05 PM Thu, Jan. 17th

'Tarzan' wastes the considerable potential it had

Alexander Skarsgård has the requisite action movie abs for “Tarzan,” but they may or may not be historically accurate. (Courtesy)

Alexander Skarsgård has the requisite action movie abs for “Tarzan,” but they may or may not be historically accurate. (Courtesy)

In "The Legend of Tarzan," Jane explains of her husband, "He understood them ... and learned to conquer them ... and considered all men his enemies ..." This perfectly epitomizes the colonial mindset that propels this bereft and disappointing film.

The original story of "Tarzan" by Edgar Rice Burroughs was published in 1912 and would see over 20 sequels and as many films created to showcase the iconoclastic character. The novel gave readers a peek into the complexities and beauties of the vast African jungles at a time when the wilds of South America, Asia and the African continent were still largely misunderstood and unexplored. Kings and governments sought to exploit the world's jungles for jewels, minerals, and the feathers, bones, and pelts of wondrous animals. Nearly 100 years later, the results of these expeditions have led to the extinction of one species of animal per day and the impoverishment and enslavement of millions of men, women and children.

The film's myopic view of Tarzan's story is disappointing at a time when films are used to express bold messages of conservationism and social justice. King Leopold has colonized the Congo under Belgian rule and has enslaved thousands of people. That was a true story.

However, despite what we know about history, the tropes of the early 1900s Tarzan films remain unchanged in this rendition.

Jane is chained to a boat's rail for 90 percent of the film, and her one escape attempt results in a soiled dress that is ripped to shreds.

The animals bend to Tarzan's will but there is no concerted effort or cooperation among the many Congolese tribes to thwart the Belgians until Tarzan shows up to guide them.

At one point, Samuel L. Jackson's character, George Washington Williams - who was an actual black Civil War veteran and politician - mediates peace between Tarzan, Chief Mbongo, and the gorillas because they were simply unable to accomplish this without American intervention.

Alexander Skarsgård's potential for Tarzan is wasted. He is quiet, impassioned, and possess fiercely perceptive eyes. Skarsgård is a pure Tarzan slate that is ready to be used ... and isn't.

Academy Award nominees and a winner, Samuel L. Jackson, Djimon Hounsou and Christoph Waltz - three actors with impressive magnitudes and vast ranges - are reduced to one-sided caricatures. Jackson is the "out of water" sidekick, Hounsou is the cheetah-wearing foe out for revenge, and Waltz is the mustachioed linen-clad villain.

In reality, Waltz's character was based on Leon Rom, the leader of Belgian's Force Publique in the Congo. Rom frequently cut off the right hand of indigenous slaves who did not meet quotas or who attempted escape. He also decapitated them, but clearly there was no need to make this film more gritty and accurate than was warranted.

Surely, Tarzan could have done more good with his control over every animal in the jungle. One would think he could quickly end the enslavement of his fellow humans and animals but, alas, Jane needed rescue. Jackson's character is based on the real black American politician who challenged King Leopold's enslavement of the people of the Congo in 1890. Clearly, the real hero of this tale was overlooked.

Family audiences: There are plenty of CGI animals, stampedes and vine-swinging to keep young viewers entertained. Children may ask why the brown people are in cages or chained to each other, so be ready with answers. Three out of four Miners.

Tarzan purists: This rendition observes many of the tropes and themes of the films from the early 1900s. There are many more indigenous villagers to love on Tarzan and Jane and plenty of folks get snatched into the jungle's fog when Tarzan swings through. It's light-hearted and the baddies are defeated by a grand stampede of wildebeests, lions and alligators. Three out of four Miners.

Action/adventure fans: The staccato action, CGI animals and muted acting may not be enough to hold your attention. Two out of four Miners.

Fans of social justice and historical accuracy: Pass. Zero out of four Miners.