‘Tarzan’ swings but falls short of its goal

Tarzan

(Photo by Warner Bros. Entertainment) Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) is joined in his quest by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson).

BY ROGER THOMAS
Film Critic

Like a lot of people, I grew up watching “Tarzan” movies.
I watched the black and white versions. I remember the television series starring Ron Ely in the title role. It seemed to be playing almost all the time when I was a kid, even though the series only lasted two seasons.
I remember going to see “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes,” but that was 32 years ago and I do not remember much about it. There was also the version with Bo Derek; it was titled simply “Tarzan, the Ape Man.” I do not think I ever saw that one. Then there was the Disney animated version which I really liked, especially the music.
There has never been a great “Tarzan” film, but plenty of people through the years have been entertained by this vine swinging, animal taming, loincloth-wearing hero. I wish I could tell you the new version, “The Legend of Tarzan,” is a masterpiece. However, it has many flaws.
First, the film is very slow. It opens with Tarzan, or to use his real name in the film, John Clayton, living in London. He eventually ends back in Africa, and much information is shared with flashbacks. However, it takes a very long time for anything significant to happen.
Second, the film’s plot is yet another revenge tale. When will Hollywood come up with a different motive for violence? Most people I know have been wronged by someone in their lives.
If real people responded with vengeance as often as film characters do, their would be an incredible rise in the violence in our communities. I know there are people who are vengeful, but I think most of us live lives of forgiveness, or at least we strive to move beyond the pain caused by the wrongful actions of others.
The most glaring flaw comes when a man who has been locked in a cage somehow is freed without any explanation of his escape. Maybe I missed something but when I asked others how did he escape, not one person could tell me what happened.
Then there is the romance. Granted for much of the film Tarzan and Jane are separated. However, I never felt any passion between them. Both Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie are talented actors, but the script should have allowed for more intense affection between the two before splitting them up.
Samuel L. Jackson, a fine actor who seems to be in about a third of the movies made these days, is always a welcome presence. However, there is a moment in this film that he speaks a line that is highly inappropriate.
“The Legend of Tarzan” is rated PG-13. There is nothing in the film except some violent moments that are handled appropriately. This film could be recommended to any family, except for that one bit of crude language; and all the other weaknesses that would prevent me personally from recommending it to anyone.
Finally, this film turns Tarzan into a super hero. I know our whole culture seems to be driven by super heroes. These “super people” are constantly populating our cinemas and they draw unparalleled crowds almost every time. In this new version of the vine-swinger, the filmmakers have decided to make Tarzan a super hero who is ready to join the X-Men, the Justice League or the Avengers.
I am not sure how I feel about that. I have been watching “Tarzan” a long time. He does not have sSuper powers,” just super compassion to help those in need. Perhaps one day there will be a extraordinary “Tarzan” film. We can always hope.

  Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

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