Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Starring Eric Northman’s Abs, or Thoughts on The Legend of Tarzan

Alexander Skarsgård, who rose to fame as The Sherriff of Area 5 (I miss Pam!), but to me will always be Meekus from Zoolander (2001, Earth to Meekus, orange mocha frappucino gasoline fight!) is now one of the most iconic heroes of American cinema in The Legend of Tarzan (2016).  Director David Yates of 4 Harry Potter films and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) took on the challenge of updating what is essentially a late 19th Century colonial revisionist fantasy for our politically correct, culturally sensitive, and easily offended world.
Edgar Rice Burroughs’ epic pulp novel Tarzan of the Apes was published in 1912, and much like Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) and Johnny Depp’s lamentable Tonto in the most recent Lone Ranger (2013), it suffers from the source material being written in what has become the polar opposite of contemporary thought.  It was a world where the idea that a white man could be better at being African than a black man, to the point of actually being able to talk to animals and having super-human strength and reflexes was actually relevant.  To be fair, Tarzan was one of the world’s first superheroes and the 100-year-old books are still immensely readable and entertaining, but I think a strong argument can be made that Tarzan is best left in the past.
All this baggage and all of these hurdles; the implicit racism, Western Imperialism and the colonial exploitation of an indigenous nation’s people and resources are wrapped up in the very name “Tarzan” and need to be addressed and overcome, if the remake is to be successful and relevant to a contemporary audience.
So here we have a Swedish actor playing an English Lord, much like the Frenchman and Highlander Christophe Lambert did in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984).  Once a brooding vampire, now a brooding formal feral child raised by apes, his performance and popularity is directly proportional to the amount of clothes he is wearing and doesn’t make an impression until he leaves 19th Century London, gets back to the Congo, and takes his shirt off.
Tarzan’s origin story and romance with Jane is told in flashbacks (it involves a lot of PG-13 sniffing), interspersed of course with a generic adventure plot concerning diamonds and the ivory trade, along with a menagerie of CGI animals and motion capture apes ironically not featuring Andy Serkis.  I am a little harsher on this movie because of all the aforementioned baggage, but I have to admit if you set all that aside it’s a perfectly adequate summer movie reminiscent of Indiana Jones (who was in turn, inspired partly by the Tarzan serials of the ‘40’s).
The Legend of Tarzan (2016) does its best to balance those scales with an abundance of side-plots involving slave-freeing and animal conservation.  The movie is respectful in its portrayals of indigenous peoples and there are plenty of action scenes that highlight their innate heroism.  It doesn’t change the fact that Tarzan has to save them, but again, this kind of movie will not be enjoyable if you sit there with your arms folded and looking for something to complain about.
With Margot Robbie, (I’m really lookin’ forward to her portrayal of Harley Quinn) as Jane, a role that is just as archetypical as Tarzan’s and Christoph Waltz as Leon Rom, a villainous Belgian on the hunt for those diamonds who you just know is going to kidnap Jane.  Samuel L. Jackson stars as George Washington Williams from the American Embassy and Djimon Hounsou (ironically, also from Peter Jackson’s King Kong) portrays Chief Mbonga of the Leopard Men and Tarzan’s sworn enemy.
Tarzan has been a facet of American Cinema since the start, he made his debut in silent movies in 1918, before the classic 1932 Tarzan the Ape Man with Olympic gold medalist Johnny Weissmuller, creator of the trademarked “Tarzan Yell”, which is actually more of a yodel.   Miles Okeefe’s Tarzan the Ape Man (1981) featured Bo Derek as Jane, and Tarzan and The Lost City (1998) had English actress Jane March as Jane and Caspar Van Diem of Starship Troopers and Baywatch as the titular ape-man.   1999 brought Disney’s animated Tarzan with yet another English actress Minnie Driver, as Jane’s voice.  Australian actress Margot Robbie plays Jane as an American lady in this latest version, but I guess that dovetails nicely with a Swedish Tarzan.

my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.