In case anyone doesn’t know this character and his adventures are based upon the classic works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, just in case. This movie seems to be very loosely based on the fifth novel of the Tarzan series, Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. Anyway here we are back in the jungle again, not so long after being there with a small Indian boy and his big bear chum. Introducing the new ripped Tarzan in all his Swedish glory, yep, I can totally tell this guy was originally Swedish (its a European thing) and it was kinda amusing to me. Like, why is this Swede running around in the jungle pretending to be a British Aristocrat.
Unfortunately in this current political climate this film was always gonna be up against it, the moment the movie was announced you could literally hear the social justice warriors sharpening their knives. Its sad because really, what do you expect from a classic character that was created back in the early 1900’s, you have the same scenario with many classic characters from that era. Anyway, this movie (directed by David ‘Harry Potter’ Yates) addresses the stories colonial political climate head on in a relatively serious manner without sugarcoating it too much. The movie is indeed a light action adventure with lots of moments where you’ll of course have to go with the flow (suspension of disbelief required), but in general the direction is semi serious, with violence but no visible blood or gore, and with elements of historical accuracy. The general blend of fantasy and fiction was handled well I thought.
What was different and quite fresh to see with this movie is the simple fact it wasn’t an origins tale of Tarzan, which took me back. I fully expected this to be a franchise kickstarter with a complete origins setup, but no! What we actually get is a story that already has Tarzan established and well known in his time, almost a mysterious, saviour or superhero of the jungle. Throughout the movie you get various flashbacks that show briefly what happened to John Clayton III, Earl of Greystoke, which led to him becoming lord of the jungle. There is a flashback showing him as a mere baby with his parents after they are shipwrecked somewhere on the continent of Africa (in the book its the Atlantic coast of Africa). Somehow they seem to have built a pretty impressive Swiss Family Robinson style tree house right at the top of some huge tree, right in the flippin’ canopy! how the literal fuck?? We get to see Clayton’s mother die from illness and his father getting killed by a group of (fictional) male Mangani apes. Later on we also see Clayton as a young boy being raised by the female ape that found him and saved him from being killed by the male apes, or one specific ape that is racist towards human beings it seems. Pretty standard origins type stuff but luckily in flashback and not taking up half the flick.
The visuals for the film are genuinely stunning at times I won’t lie. Yes it is of course completely CGI for the most part, apparently the actors filmed in the UK of all places! This I do actually find hard to believe because for much of the time it really does look like they are actually in Africa somewhere. The sets and locations used are truly amazing seeing as this is the case, sure much of the backdrops and landscapes are filled in with CGI but at times its damn hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. I honesty don’t believe they filmed the actors in the UK, I just don’t see how the hell they made it so fecking realistic! The CGI for the landscapes is gorgeous for the most part and really sets the atmosphere perfectly with lovely moody vistas. CGI does work best for things like landscapes and pictures like this do show that fact off very well. But its not all CGI, there were some location shots filmed in Gabon especially for the film. None with any actors, just purely for sweeping landscape purposes, after all you do need some genuine shots of Africa.
When it comes down to things like action sequences and animals, the CGI does get a bit dodgy in places it must be said. For the most part the great apes look superb, especially up close with high levels of detail that will blow you away. When the apes get a bit more animated and start leaping all over the place then things start to look a bit Marvel-esque if you get me, a bit comicbook-esque. When Tarzan has a hand to hand battle with one main ape (indeed), things start to get a little bit silly and you think you’re watching some kind of Capcom videogame matchup. Did Tarzan actually use some martial arts moves against that ape??
Anyway I did say that the landscapes were awesome, and they are, but the backdrops against the actors at times were not quite so good. By that I mean the dreaded greenscreen effect was very evident and very obvious on numerous occasions. Kinda felt like you were watching a Lucas sci-fi production at times, yeesh! The sequence where Tarzan, some natives and Samuel L. Jackson’s character (George Washington Williams) are all running through the jungle, swinging from vines and eventually running through the tall trees, along thick branches and trunks, was pretty dire to be frank. This was easily one of the worst offenders for bad CGI and obvious greenscreen, it looked fake as fuck. There were also numerous bad looking sequences showing Tarzan swinging on vines through the jungle with dynamic camera angles to try and give it a more grandiose action/comicbook hero vibe. These didn’t really work too well, it just looks a bit naff basically, trying to pander to the big comicbook/superhero crowd, but I guess you gotta see Tarzan doing it.
On the whole though, everything does look really good from start to finish. The historical accuracy seems to be very good throughout, the costumes are especially terrific, weapons, vehicles, buildings, props, the natives etc…all look really authentic which really does add to the overall enjoyment factor. Gotta admit, I thought it was a bit silly that all the native tribesmen were built like brick shithouses, almost all of them were totally ripped and big. Sure this is based on a fictional fantasy about a pasty English bloke who basically rules and African jungle, but would the natives all be that ripped? Come to think of it, would Tarzan even be ripped, would he even have survived in the first place?? After probably growing up living on not much with the animals I’m surprised he never caught any hideous diseases or got eaten by any predators. Yes I know I’m looking too deeply into this.
So overall, yes the visuals of the African wilderness are majestic, historically it all looks really solid, the animals are generally solid, but things do tend to get a bit fake and daft looking when it involves bounding through the jungle trees, fighting apes and generally doing any Indy type stuff. Not too heavy on the live action stunts it seems, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ this is not. On the whole though I would say this is certainly an enjoyable movie with a great moustache twirling villain from Christoph Waltz, easily the standout performance. Then there’s the surprisingly (yet broody) OK Tarzan from Alexander Skarsgård, and the usual scenario of Samuel L. Jackson playing Sameul L. Jackson (this time trying his best to be an early 19th century set Samuel L. Jackson). Generally an all round engaging yarn that isn’t quite corking or ripping…but fun.
Question though, who gave the Earl of Greystoke the name Tarzan?? He was raised by apes in the jungle, or more specifically a female ape by the name of Kala. Sooo…are we to presume the apes named Clayton…Tarzan? Do these apes generally name themselves and other creatures? Is this jungle set in the same universe as Mowgli’s jungle?