The Legend of Tarzan, Tarzan, Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Jane

Movie Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016) *Or Why Belgium Sucks*

The Legend of Tarzan, Tarzan, Alexander Skarsgard, Jane, Margot Robbie
Over the last two decades there have been some extremely successful reinventions of classic characters for the modern age: Zorro, Batman, Sherlock Holmes,  James Bond, etc.  All of these stay true to the heart of what made the character great to begin with, but ground the character in a practical sensibility that make them relatable to today’s audience.  I’m guessing this was the intent with Tarzan, the Lord of the Jungle, made famous through the stories of Edgar Rice Borroughs.  Tarzan was a staple of early Hollywood, probably most famously played by Johnny Weissmuller, but with the exception of the Disney animated feature in the late 1990’s, no one has tried to bring Tarzan back to his big screen roots in a long time.  After The Legend of Tarzan, I think it will probably be a long time before anyone else gives it another shot.

The national flag of Belgium. The capital city, by the way, is Brussels, but I’m sure you knew that. I got this off the CIA’s website, so clearly they’re still up to something.

But before we get into the nuts and bolts of why this went flying off the tracks, let’s talk about Belgium.  This is relevant, the film’s entire plot hinges on the basic premise that Belgium is pure evil.  If you’re not acquainted, Belgium is a country in northwestern Europe, roughly the size of Maryland.  It has the unfortunate position of being situated directly between France and Germany, thus whenever the Germans get an itch to go flatten Paris, Belgium is the most direct route.  They’re also famous for their chocolates.  Oh and slavery.  Belgians have never met an African tribe they didn’t think would be put to better use mining diamonds or standing in front of actively firing weaponry.  Now, if I told you that a tremendous part of the plot of The Legend of Tarzan was taken up by painstakingly explaining the Belgians presence in the Congo, the state of their monarch’s finances, and the atrocities they were willing to commit to balance their….WAFFLES, Belgians and waffles, can’t do without them….where was I before that.  Totally blanked, but that’s ok because it’s really not worth trying to keep track of beyond noting that the personification of Belgian evil is Christoph Waltz, and he’s Belgian.  And evil.

Christoph Waltz, The Legend of Tarzan

The Legend of Tarzan is a hot pot of mess.  It’s poorly directed, which is a surprise since David Yates is usually a very steady hand on the wheel.  The acting from Waltz, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson (he’s Tarzan’s American buddy there to keep an eye on the whole slavery rumor), and others is just weird to bizarre.  There are so many different subplots flying out of left field and disappearing into the ether that you can’t focus on one for more than a solid 30 seconds before another one pops up like a two-hour game of “Whack a Subplot”.  Robbie, who plays Jane, is given a lot of pluck and I am guessing that the aim was to avoid making her simply a damsel in distress (guess what she is for most of the film?  No, not Belgian, but fine supposition).  Then there is the dialogue which ranges from cringe-worthy to stupefying (did Jane just make a priest molestation joke to evil Belgian Waltz…..what the what?).  Amongst all this madness, Alexander Skarsgard, who plays Tarzan with all the emotion of a fine plank of cedar stands out just because he’s not Belgian or acting like a loon (and he talks to animals and yodels in the jungle and STILL is the most normal human in this movie).

Tarzan, Alexander Skarsgard, Samuel L. Jackson

The film takes place years after Tarzan left the jungle, married Jane, and took up his father’s title as Lord Greystroke in England.  But then a tidal wave of Belgian plot devices occur (I may have wandered out in search of some waffles for a bit) and he’s lured back to his old home in the Congo where he walks and talks and swings with the animals.  This, by the way, is honestly the best part of the movie.  Watching Tarzan interact with photorealistic CGI animals, and lead them against (wait for it) the Belgian army, is by far the most interesting part of the film.  Probably because it actually focused on Tarzan.  His youth is interspersed through the whole film in an inelegant and intrusive fashion that does nothing  to endear you to Tarzan, or particularly entertain you.  It’s mostly just another one of those subplots I previously mentioned (sans Belgians).

The Legend of Tarzan, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz

So is there any reason whatsoever to see this film?  Well, that depends on 1) your inherent dislike of Belgium and 2) what kind of a fan of cinematography you are.  While Tarzan fails on almost every level, the cinematography is absolutely stunning, Oscar-caliber camera work.  The film looks gorgeous and features a wonderful score.  Additionally, I was not being glib about Tarzan and the animals.  The bits we get of him reconnecting with the creatures who raised him and rallying them against (yes brace yourself) the Belgians, are the bits where you see where this could have gone completely differently if the screenwriter hadn’t gotten a bad batch of chocolates at some point in their life.

Tarzan, The Legend of Tarzan, Alexander Skarsgard

Tarzan, to begin with, is a very hard character to make relevant to modern audiences.  However, one of my favorite fictional characters is a billionaire who dresses like a six-foot bat and fights crime, so it CAN be done.  It just takes a love of the source material, the cleverness to pick the bits that work for a modern audience, and to stay true to what made people love the character in the first place.  None of that care is lavished on The Legend of Tarzan, so all you end up with is eye candy (which as far as I know is not made in Belgium).


13 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Legend of Tarzan (2016) *Or Why Belgium Sucks*”

  1. To Douglas Adams fans, Belgium already has a certain amount of notoriety, but the place also gave the world the greatest fictional detective of all time, and reading about him got me through some hard times when I was a kid, so it all balances out, at least in my universe.

    No living human being has actually read the original Tarzan novels. I have been reading voraciously ever since the days my parents first tricked me into believing in Santa Claus, and I have never read any of the Tarzan novels. And as big of a movie fan as I am, the only Tarzan movie I have ever seen is the Disney cartoon. And I don’t think I’m alone. Everyone knows who this character is, but no one is interested.

    Stop me if you’re heard this one….

    Q: How can you tell the difference between an elephant and a grape?

    A: Easy, one’s purple.

    Q: How can you tell if you’re colorblind?

    A: Stomp on one. If wine comes out, it’s a grape.

    Q: What did Tarzan say when he saw the elephant coming over the hill?

    A: “Look at the elephant coming over the hill!”

    Q: What did Jane say when she saw the elephant coming over the hill?

    A: “Look at the grape coming over the hill!” (Jane was colorblind.)


      1. Okay, okay. Holmes was the template, no one will ever top him. I just have a special place in my heart for Hercule. Plus when he died in “Curtain” his obituary was on the FRONT PAGE of the New York Times.

        I’m surprised that Yates dropped the ball on this movie, I’ve been waiting to stream it but I was going to see it because of his name alone. Was it studio interference do you think or did he just go into it with a Pirate Sequel Mentality and throw too much at the screen?


  2. The movie had a interesting backdrop setting, but the movie was too bland and generic. Also, I would’ve liked to see the original Tarzan story, not a sequel to the original story.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. And how it has anything to do with Tarzan. Or what Djimon Honsou was doing wasting his time in the weirdest most pointless plotline in the film. Robbie should host a weekly show explaining incredibly difficult and important concepts from her bathtub. We would all learn.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Agreed on all points, my friend! It would’ve times more interesting if that was the case.


  3. Whats up with the misinformation? Waltz is Austrian not Belgian
    And Congo made Belgium rich from rubber not so much of diamonds.
    While the Belgiums claimed congo, who claimed the rest of that massive continent, French, British, Italians, spanish and Portugese, why only focus on the Belgians as evil?
    De Beer company, ring any bells? Cecil rhodes? Anybody? Were British…
    Irony = talking shit about Belgium because of slavery coming from an American.
    No wonder it took +200 years to elect a black president


    1. Ok, I had to reread what I wrote two years ago. My review was mocking TLoT’s weird focus on Belgium as an evil empire, and I am fully aware Christoph Waltz in German but his character in the film is Belgian and that is what I was referring to in the review. I have no idea why Belgium ended up as the villains in the film. I was mirroring the weird focus on them in the absurd tone I took because it was a deeply, deeply weird film. Most European countries had colonies in Africa and you can find horror stories in all of them and I’m not going to say Belgium was blameless, because “The Congo Horrors” were real. Yes, they got more money out of rubber than diamonds, but diamonds are more movie sexy, and if you’re looking to films to dole out accurate history you’re going to be seriously disappointed. Americans didn’t invent slavery, but they absolutely held on to it longer than Europe and the scars will exist for centuries to come. TLoT is a bizarre movie not a history lesson. I don’t particularly feel bad about mocking Belgium because they have very real scars of their own, but my primary target was a botched movie.


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