The best of Tarzan? The answer of course would be the ones with Johnny Weismuller as Tarzan the Ape Man from 1932 and Tarzan’s New York Adventure from 1942. This was the best of Tarzan on screen. He was the epitome of the White Man as the Lord of the Jungle. There was always an interesting clash of elements in the Tarzan mythology. He was part White Supremacist and Nativist, mixed with equal parts of the Eco-friendly man and Protector of the Weak; then finally he was the ultimate Loner without a country and Rebel with a cause.
Tarzan’s role as the white man in the jungle made him innately superior, in accordance with the Darwinian model, which was always reinforced in his domination over the animals in the jungle. But there was a mystical reverence of nature found in Tarzan, and his softer side always shone through in his love for Jane. All of these elements combined to create, along with the fantastic action shots of Olympian Johnny Weismuller, this mythic but believable creature.
We could identify with that Tarzan. The innate animal charm of Weismuller combined with his physical prowess as he swung from vines and wrestled crocodiles gave us something to hang our hats on. His character had teeth. The Tarzan of the 21st Century is not as easy to read. He is not only inscrutable because of his character, but there is no clear shot at gleaning any new knowledge of Tarzan. This is a scattershot film, one of those saddled with the dreaded flashback syndrome. Any time we may grab hold of a good chunk of dialogue or action, there comes another dreary flashback to steer us away from any semblance of interest in this plot.
The plot? Tarzan returns to the jungle to save Jane. That’s about it. In the beginning we see that he is already ensconced in Greystoke Manor in England. It would have been interesting to see him in English Society, but we’re only given a brief glimpse from the opening sequence. We are mostly waiting for him to strip off his English Lord duds and begin to act like Tarzan. The weak and insipid but standard Tarzan yell near the end is about par for the course in this film. It’s so faint and half-hearted, it could be a metaphor for the entire project.
The recommendation for anyone who isn’t a die-hard Tarzan fan, but perhaps wants to know more, is to read the books by Edgar Rice Borroughs, then rent the most popular of the series: Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) & Tarzan’s New York Adventure; and if you are still interested, watch the re-make from 1984: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan with Christopher Lambert.
This version, with Margot Robbie, a great actress under-utilized as Jane, and Alexander Skarsgard as the Ape Man is not worth the price of admission. Samuel L Jackson and Christoph Waltz are also great actors who are picking up a paycheck and not much else in this Sominex version.