The Legend of Tarzan

Don’t be misled by critics with a bad attitude.

The Legend of TarzanThe Legend of Tarzan, directed by David Yates, is a surprisingly entertaining film. Dismissed by many critics, it draws its strength from a great cast and focusing on a dark moment in a history that we should all remember.

As European countries carved up most of Africa in the latter part of the 19th century, King Leopold of Belgium took control of the Congo. This film takes place in the early 1880s when Leopold did his best to hide his attempt to enslave the Congolese people. As many politicians in our country attempt to condemn Muslims and the Islamic religion, it is unfortunate that we choose to ignore the diabolical role played by many Christian countries in Western Europe that leaves a stain on history.

Let me assure you that this film is not a remake of Johnny Weissmuller’s old performances where you see Tarzan swinging on vines through the jungle in a loincloth. Here, you see Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) living in London with his wife (Margot Robbie) under his English name John Clayton. Misled, he is lured back to the Congo so that Leopold’s agent (Christoph Waltz) can turn him over to an old tribal enemy and collect a fortune in diamonds.

While Tarzan is unaware of the secret plans to kill him, the Belgians are unaware that his fellow trade emissary, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), needs Tarzan’s help to expose Leopold’s pursuit of slavery. Accompanied against his wishes by his wife, Tarzan’s return to Africa involves confronting the apes who raised him, challenging his old adversary (Djimon Hounsou) and trying to save both the future of the Congo and his wife who has been kidnapped by Waltz.

While the film briefly revisits Tarzan’s upbringing, it does so only to describe how he survived and initially met and fell in love with Jane, his future wife. Sure, there are moments where he swings through the trees on vines as well as battling apes who turn on him, but this film’s success is the result of some great performances by some great actors. Mr. Skarsgård is wonderful as both the European Mr. Clayton and Tarzan. Subtle and determined, you will be well advised to hunt down his great role as a domestic terrorist in the largely forgotten film The East (2013).

Though I have never been a big fan of Ms. Robbie, it is worth remembering her role as DiCaprio’s second wife in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). Who could forget the scene where she is sitting on the floor, a high heel pressed against DiCaprio’s forehead as he tried to crawl toward her. Even a description of that moment tempts me to hunt down some antidepressants.

In any event, what elevates this film flows from the magnificent performances from Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz. Jackson is superb as an envoy who is left mocking himself as he tries to keep up with Tarzan. He has evolved into one of the most pleasurable actors to watch on the big screen, and I can only encourage you to see him in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (2015), Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq (2015) and the great villain he played in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015). Finally, he brought style and impact to Django Unchained (2012) where he played the rancid sidekick of plantation owner Leonardo DiCaprio.

As for Mr. Waltz, no actor working today plays a better villain. He won Oscars for his role in both Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained (2012), and he was able to add grace to hateful characters in Big Eyes (2014) and the last Bond film, Spectre (2015).

Finally, this is not some powder puff adventure film like this year’s Alice Through the Looking Glass or Independence Day: Resurgence, so do yourself a favor and take it in if you get the chance.