By Jonathan Decker (Family therapist, film critic)
WHAT’S THE LEGEND OF TARZAN ABOUT?
Eight years after leaving the jungle, John Greystoke (AKA Tarzan) returns with his wife Jane to foil a slavery plot.
IS IT ANY GOOD? (GRADE: A-)
An old-school-meets-new-school adventure in the vein of The Mask of Zorro and Quigley Down Under, this newest screen interpretation of the Tarzan legend benefits greatly from the direction of David Yates (of the final four Harry Potter films). There is so much to enjoy in this movie: lush location cinematography brings stunning African vistas to life, the action clicks, the visual effects are first-rate (the CGI animals in particular), the screenplay allows the story to breathe and the characters to connect with the audience, and the cast is excellent.
Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie make for a refreshingly passionate married couple, the former is noble and stoic while the latter is strong and fiesty. They have a marvelous chemistry. Samuel L. Jackson is having fun, as is Christopher Waltz as a slimy villain. Djimon Hounsou is underused, but makes an impression nonetheless. What doesn’t work? The film gets close to taking itself too seriously (its few jokes hit the mark and are very welcome) and a few action beats are so over the top, even for a Tarzan movie, that they risk eye rolls from the audience. Still, with a fine balance of action, romance, drama, and comedy, The Legend of Tarzan is a can’t miss night at the movies. He Tarzan. You go.
IS IT OKAY FOR YOUR KIDS?
The Legend of Tarzan is rated PG-13. It has one s-word and four religious profanities. There are two innuendos (a soldier implicitly threatens a woman with rape, Tarzan asks a man if he’s going to lick an ape’s privates to keep the ape from killing him). The film contains depictions of healthy married sexuality: in one a husband and wife kiss passionately; he’s shirtless, she’s clothed, he lays her on the bed and the scene ends. In another a wife straddles her husband’s lap and kisses him (both clothed), but the scene is more tender than sexual. In flashbacks it’s implied that Tarzan was naked in the jungle, both as a boy and as an adult, but we don’t see his privates or his backside. Soldiers die in battle from spears, gunfire, and animal attacks. Innocent people die from gunfire and animal attacks. It’s not particularly bloody. There is plenty of action and peril. The film has a balanced portrayal of Christians; the villain is one, but so are Tarzan’s loving parents.
ANY WORTHWHILE MESSAGES?
Husbands and wives should support each other’s dreams and needs. Faithfulness to, and love for, each other can help them emerge from tragedy closer than ever. People of faith can be fanatical and cruel or loving and decent. You cannot escape your past or its consequences; the best you can do is act honorably in the present and accept responsibility. Practicing understanding for others can help to avoid fighting. The greatest love is to be willing to die for another. Oppression must be resisted.
If you liked The Legend of Tarzan, check out Quigley Down Under. It’s another “white man befriends the natives and helps battle their oppressors” movie with an equally deft balance of action, romance, comedy, and drama.