The Legend of Tarzan (2016) a study in forgotten idealism.

legend-tarzan-movie-trailer-poster-2016
Director: David Yates
Cast: Christopher Waltz, Margot Robbie, Alexander Skarsgård
Review Author: Adam Monks
Rating: 3/5 Cans of Guinness

This one is a bit hard to classify. Canonically, it’s technically a sequel; as it starts as a ‘return to Africa’ mission for this jungle-SpiderMan turned aristocrat.

At the heart of this film is a highly strung plot that involves Tarzan being used as bait in a political situation to help a corrupt Government perpetuate slavery in the Congo in the 1800’s, as a political consultant/18th Century Liam Neeson jumps in to use their plan against them. It has a healthy amount of action and decent pacing that loses the run of itself every now and then but actually came out a lot more engaging than I expected. If you haven’t guessed it by now, or haven’t deduced from the last year of drunken ramblings; I tend not to wander into films like this with the highest of expectations.

Needles to say, that is not what I was expecting when I heard ‘Tarzan reboot’. I thought it would be Hozier jammed in to replace what Phil Collins did wonderfully in the 90’s Disney film, and 2 hours of yelling, swinging, and monkey-punching. But I was pleasantly surprised.

It came out swinging (excuse the pun, it probably won’t be the last) with an ambitious plot that didn’t immediately put the whole ‘haha he was raised by monkeys’ at the centre. Tarzan’s celebrity status and a delicate political situation are what drive act 1 forward.

Act 2…descends slightly… into a buddy cop movie. It kind of ticks along nicely as we get some progress in the 2 plots that are riding along side by side. This action thriller evolves slightly here, to a story of bonding that reminds me a lot of Shanghai Noon. It reminds me of Shanghai Noon because you have a basic chase story, set in the past, with one character out of his element but notably more skilled, and one in his element but too arrogant and highly skilled in a particular area to be of any use alone. The two characters need to unite together to conquer both terrain and an evil villain. The evil villain, in both cases, is a high ranking stooge for an unseen mastermind. Whose whole plan is based on delivering a bounty to someone who wants to it, to destabilise an entire nation. Oh, and the plan can be stopped by killing this one guy despite their being entire fucking countries and armies backing up the plan. blah blah blah…they’re basically the same. Blah blah blah it gets a bit hollow and simplistic when you read into how they eventually stop the villain. Don’t do that to yourself with this film, (who am I to talk, right?!) it works this template quite well and is actually very enjoyable.

What I want to focus on is what this hollow plot reminded me of; idealism, and the lack of it lately in modern films. But before that, lets rip act 3 apart because the final act of this film is when things really just descend into absolute ‘we have lots of budget left’ anarchy!

In act 3 it seems as though Samuel L Jackson decided he didn’t have enough lines, or cool things to do. So by god does he make up for it. Not only does he just get shoehorned into every scene he could be conceivably relevant in, the camera even takes every opportunity to remind you that he’s in the film as it pans back to him for his own reaction and thoughts on nearly everything that goes on. My favourite one of these forced inclusions of this man on my life during this film was during a rather gripping assault on an army boat dock. Everything is going fine and then suddenly the man has a fucking mounted minigun in his hands! Complete overkill but again…it was fun.

First off, I must complement that this film made efforts to break away from a lot of stereotypes and cliches of film but…doesn’t really follow through with it. They acknowledge old and tired tropes of cinema, notably the ‘Damsel in distress’ line by Margot Robbie where she claims she won’t be one and won’t bow to her captor’s wants. The problem is, rather than tackle these tropes and cliches as a film…or even turn them on their head or do something smart…it just kind of apologises for them and then does them anyway. She claims she won’t be a ‘Damsel in distress’ but then rather than say something witty to comment on this old and tired stereotype or mock it in film as many have before…she just says ‘sorry but no’ and sulks.

But back to idealism. It may seem as though I am picking holes in the film above, where I moan that a huge plan can be pulled apart by two fish out of water. But that’s why I loved this film. I feel like it’s only achievable to have this sort of ‘take on the world attitude’ in films set in the far past.

Idealism is something I feel is lacking in the modern world right now and this is particularly prevalent in film. If you were to see a modern pair of characters change the course of an entire continent and defeat evil with just a spear and a gun you would be annoyed. The plot would be too dummed down, simplistic and you would not be able to enjoy it. More importantly, despite a film about Facebook being made, it’s hard to imagine a believable, realistic plot (that isn’t a superhero movie) that involves one man creating global havoc. Even James Bond needed the help of 3 people in Spectre and that itself seemed forced and blessed in a lot of luck for him.

The lack of idealism and the idea that one person can make a change is also why the Bond movies are getting less enjoyable as time passes. They are now more about character development rather than plot. Even Skyfall is essentially a commentary about deciding to use your skills for good or evil rather than the story of ‘bad man hurt London, Bond chase’. Skyfall got its praise for showing backstory because it’s not OK to focus on ‘save the world by yourself’ plots anymore.

But when this film is set 200 years ago it’s ok? Why is that? I think it’s because we’ve become too cynical. The world has gotten too hard to live in and too many horrible things have happened that entire global agencies can’t even stop to consider it ‘OK’ to make a film about 2 guys making a difference. Films set in 2016 are about small wins, or morally dubious characters screwing the world over easily. Take Wolf of Wall Street and Southpaw as two examples. One is a bad guy succeeding despite many attempts to stop him, and another is someone who is the best…getting absolutely shit on by a tough world and only redeeming himself by getting back to where he nearly was to begin with.

100 years ago, in Ireland, men my age were dying and killing to create this country, an act that has forever changed history. I simply can’t imagine a situation that I could leave my house tomorrow and be a part of that would do anything along the same scale, because as the world has grown and changed and become sour- change at that level isn’t possible anymore…

Sorry to be all nihilist and obsessive but that’s the truth. The world is a harder place to change now. And that’s why I liked this film. It showed me a version of the world where change was possible. If you remove yourself from ‘The Legend of Tarzan’ and look at this as a social commentary on the shape of the world in the 1800s; and the sort of problems small, but powerful gestures like the siege Tarzan leads, it is a very enjoyable film.

Go see it, and fight me on Twitter @ReelTimeDublin

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