This Week's Review: The Legend of Tarzan

The heat kept me inside my house most of the July 4 weekend, but I did make my way to a theater once. The place was packed with screaming children, so I avoided the animated features Finding Dory and The Big Friendly Giant. I do intend to see both of them, but my ears (and temperament) can not cope with the screamers.

I started my holiday viewing with The Legend of Tarzan. I started reading my father’s copies of the original Tarzan novels around the age of seven, but, for unknown reasons, I started with the second novel rather than the first. (I am compulsive about reading series in the proper sequence, so I can not explain that blunder in judgment.) Even so, I enjoyed them all and I had great fun discussing them with my father.

The new film derives a great deal from that second novel, The Return of Tarzan, but it pulls material from several of the books as well as from earlier movies, particularly Greystoke. There are even some allusions to a really dreadful film, Tarzan the Ape Man, with the very ghastly actors Miles O’Keefe and Bo Derek.

The cast is reasonable good with Christoph Waltz as a very nasty Belgian imperialist who badly needs Lord Greystoke to return to Africa. Since Waltz recently played a very evil villain in the James Bond film Spectre, we can probably expect to see him in more villainous roles. Alexander Skarsgard (some diacritical marks are missing) does well as our favorite ape-man; the influence of the Greystoke film on this version of the character is very clear.

The 3-D version is very good, particularly the vine-swinging episodes. For that reason alone, I would suggest seeing the film in a theater, but, be warned: there is no allusion to a recent Geico commercial in which Tarzan and Jane can’t find the nearest waterfall.

Many critics have written the Tarzan stories off as racist, but I am not in total agreement on that point. Burroughs was clearly a Social Darwinist, but Tarzan had several Black allies, particularly the Waziris, who were usually portrayed as heroic. I suspect that Burroughs was deeply influenced in his attitudes toward minorities by his service in the United States Cavalry; his short series of Apache novels was very sympathetic to the tribes of the Southwest. (The most racist jungle stories I ever encountered were the Bomba the Jungle Boy series; even as a child I could see the bias in those stories.)

I ended my excursion with a second viewing of Independence Day: Resurgence. It held up very nicely and, as usual, I caught several thinks I had missed the week before.