Meet the New, Highly-Sculpted Tarzan
By Skip Sheffield
Meet the new, improved Tarzan, Alexander Skarsgard in “The Legend of Tarzan.”
Skarsgard, a Swedish actor who is a towering 6-foot-4, underwent intensive training and dieting to become the most finely-chiseled Tarzan ever. He is teamed with the delicately beautiful Australian actress Margot Robbie as Jane.
Director David Yates is responsible for the last four of the Harry Potter movies, all of which had eye-popping visual style. For exteriors, Yates flew his crew to the magnificent Gabon National Parks in Africa, lending the movie a wild visual beauty.
Only vaguely inspired by the original Edgar Rice Burroughs yarns, “Tarzan” is set in 1884, after the origin story of an orphaned boy raised by a family of apes in Africa. Tarzan has left Africa and returned to England to claim his title as the 5th Earl of Greystoke, John Clayton III. Clayton has married his American girlfriend Jane, and they have settled into the life of the landed gentry, with Clayton a member of the House of Lords.
Meanwhile back in the Congo, claimed by King Leopold of Belgium, diamonds have been discovered. Something even more valuable than diamonds has evolved; the enslavement of natives under the greedy, ruthless power of King Leopold’s emissary, Capt. Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz). Rom has entered in an agreement with tribal Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) to deliver Tarzan in exchange for diamonds. Rom concocts an excuse to lure Clayton back to Africa, where he can be captured.
In the revisionist script by Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer and a committee of others, Jane has become a feisty feminist, insisting she come along for the trip. Also muscling in on the mission is Civil War veteran George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), who knows about the slave trade and wants to expose it to the world.
It doesn’t take Clayton long to doff his shirt and prepare for battle. Jane predictably is captured and Tarzan revives his gift of communication with animals, most of whom are computer-generated, to defeat the bad guys. Jackson serves as comic relief in an otherwise sober story of exploitation.
Belgium was not the only European country with a shameful history of colonialism and exploitation in Africa. This is the first Tarzan movie of my recollection that has worked in modern social commentary. Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller remains the gold standard of Tarzans, but for sheer physical perfection, Skarsgard has set the bar the highest yet.