The American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) was the author of one of the most durable and popular cultural myths of the 20th century. Tarzan is much more than a muscular Ape Man; as Hugh Hudson, the director of Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes put it: he is "everyman . . . we all aspire to be how he is morally and physically. We'd all love to have that body, be wild, swing in trees and get the ideal woman, who is Jane."
Burroughs wrote 26 books about this versatile folk hero and more than 40 movies have followed in their wake. David Yates, who directed four of the Harry Potter movies, is a seasoned artist who knows how to make the most of stories which mix the magical and the real and touch lightly on the ineffable graces of love and liberation.
This Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard), who was raised in the African jungle by apes, has retired from the exertions of survival in the wild to the comfortable life as John Clayton, lord of a luxurious English manse with his beautiful wife Jane (Margot Robbie). He is lured away from civilization to take on the challenges of racism, slavery, and colonialism as embodied in the malevolent efforts of King Leopold of Belgium (1835-1909). The chief villain in this multidimensional tale is Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) who is bringing in an army of mercenaries to conquer the Congo and enslave its people. To pay for all this, he needs the diamonds controlled by a tribal chief (Djimon Hounsou), who has only one request: he wants Rom to capture John Clayton so that he can kill him. Meanwhile, in England, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), convinces Clayton to return to Africa to help him prove that the Africans are being enslaved by King Leopold.
This mission takes on mythic dimensions as the vine-swinging hero sets out to almost single-handedly rescue the tribesmen aboard a slave train and others already captured at a port. When Rom kidnaps Jane, he crosses a line that puts Tarzan and his allies – including quite a few four-legged ones -- on his trail.
Screenplay writers Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer have succeeded in making this film into something more than just another adventure story. There are some incredible scenes of Tarzan's intimate interactions with lions, primates, elephants, and water buffalo. Old movies about human beings raised in the wild by animals dance in our heads as The Legend of Tarzan unfolds. And we also take to heart Loren Eiseley's observation:
"Do not forget your brethren, nor the green wood from which you sprang. To do so is to invite disaster. . . . One does not meet oneself until one catches the reflection from an eye other than human." The stunning cinematography by Henry Braham was shot on various locations in Gabon. He also shot Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes more than thirty years ago.