Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
The Legend Of Tarzan

Title: The Legend of Tarzan

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote: 

Homer: "Eh, I'm sick of this Tarzan movie."
Lisa: "Dad, it's a documentary on the homeless."

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three Jimmy "Baltimora" McShanes out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis:
 Half-naked man strikes blow for anti-colonialism, capri pants.

Tagline: "Human. Nature."

Better Tagline: "Jungle booshie."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: It's been eight years since Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård), orphaned as a baby and raised by gorillas, relocated from Africa to England and become Lord Clayton, member of Parliament. Now married to Jane (Margot Robbie) and living in Stately Greystoke Manor, he still feels the pull of the Dark Continent, so when King Leopold II of Belgium extends Clayton an invitation to return to the Congo on a fact-finding mission, he reluctantly accepts — with a little encouragement from American emissary George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson). Little does Tarzan know the mission is a ruse concocted by Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a ruthless Belgian determined to deliver him to his enemies in exchange for diamonds that will save Leopold's bankrupt empire.

"Critical" Analysis: Before embarking on any scrutiny of a film about Tarzan — Warrior of the Woodlands, Ayatollah of the Arboreal — one must acknowledge the hilarity of the core premise. To wit: Brought up by mystical apes called the "Mangani," friend to (all) wild animals, he's also a member of English nobility, specifically the Viscount Greystoke. Truly, here is the Victorian representation of the Renaissance man in all his improbable majesty.

The welcome thing about The Legend of Tarzan is how it recognizes, nay, embraces this absurdity. Clayton's past isn't just accepted matter-of-factly by the Prime Minister and local children alike, it helps him rise to a respected position in the House of Lords. When King Leopold's alleged invitation arrives, Clayton's assumption of the role of Britain's trusted ambassador isn't just expected, it's enthusiastically anticipated.

Director David Yates (working from a screenplay by Adam Cozan and Hustle and Flow's Craig Brewer) and everyone involved basically go all-in on the endeavor. As the titular ape man, Skarsgård is all rippling pecs and noble stoicism (no doubt owing to his Nordic roots). And the build-up to when he finally takes off his shirt is probably only rivaled by the anticipation of the T. rex reveal in Jurassic Park.

But Clayton is no brutish primeval refugee. This Tarzan is on a quest to free the Congo from slavery and prevent Leopold and Rom from subjugating the entire territory. Quick history lesson: Real-life Rom lived on as the brutal leader of the Force Publique in the Congo, and Leopold subsequently went on to exploit the resources of the Free State at the cost of an estimated 10 million native lives. The Lord of the Jungle in The Legend of Tarzan is a force for anti-colonialism, drawing parallels (via former Indian fighter Williams) with the systematic eradication of Native Americans. It's admirable, if unrealistically optimistic. Let's just take it as a Star Trek-style temporal anomaly and move on.

Jackson, as expected, is the perfect audience avatar for the unbelievable events taking place before him. His frequent looks of incredulity are on point, and keep Tarzan from getting too far up its own finely sculpted posterior. Robbie also does her best to give Jane more agency, but it's a difficult task when you spend half the movie in captivity. 

Of perhaps greater significance is how Yates address the bigger issue: Tarzan's nudity. "Great apes" or not, it isn't like a bunch of knuckle-dragging tick eaters would have understood the concept of diapers. True to this, young Tarzan is depicted sans pantalon. By the end of the movie, however, Clayton/Tarzan is swinging through the trees in trousers and a modified loincloth, having fully caved in to societal mores.

Clearly, this is a conspiracy originating from the highest levels of Hollywood to undermine the legacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Allow me to spell it out:


It all makes sense.

The Legend of Tarzan isn't a great movie, but Yates and company, bless their hearts, really want you to go along for the ride. If nothing else, it's guaranteed to be the best movie with Margot Robbie attacked by a hippopotamus you see this year summer.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar