Writing at Cinelinx, Rob Young asks the reasonable question — Will Legend of Tarzan get it right? “Tarzan movies have been plentiful but good Tarzan movies are a lot harder to find. . . . . There have been many, many film and TV adaptations of Tarzan since the character first debuted in 1912. Some have been good, but most have been rather weak. Few have been truly accurate to the original Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. What does next year’s The Legend of Tarzan need to do to make Tarzan entertaining, relevant and marketable in the 21st Century?”
I would say “none have been truly accurate” to ERB — the only one that comes close is the first 45 minutes of Greystoke.
But what makes the article a bit more interesting than a simple “fidelity to the original” lament are some other observations about superheroes who, like Tarzan, are extraordinary but not blessed with overwhelming superpowers. I think he’s onto something here, at least as far as trying to figure out how to position Tarzan with modern movie audiences.
The filmmakers should also look at other similar ‘super’ characters to see what works for them, and try to transfer it to Tarzan. Think of who the two most popular movie super heroes are now….Batman and Wolverine. Coincidentally, Tarzan has qualities very much like both of those heroes. Tarzan has a backstory similar to Batman and personal characteristics similar to Wolverine.
Think about it; Batman was born to a wealthy family but a tragedy that caused the death of his parents changed his life. Seeking to bring justice to a dangerous city, he trained himself to peak physical and mental conditioning, and returned to Gotham City to become the scourge of the underworld. Tarzan was born to a wealthy family but a tragedy that caused the death of his parents changed his life. Seeking to survive in a hostile environment, he learned to develop his body and skills to peak conditioning and became the Lord of the Jungle.
And what about the Wolverine? The ERB Tarzan is a lot like Wolverine. He’s a combination of a savage and a skilled warrior. Like Wolverine, Tarzan has a no-nonsense, “Don’t mess with me or I’ll slice you up” attitude and he has a primal, bestial side that comes out in fits of savage fury when he gets mad. Tarzan is definitely no pacifist and he isn’t big on mercy. The same sort of simmering intensity and pent-up savagery that makes Wolverine so popular is present in the ERB Tarzan.
In a way, Tarzan is a lot like a super hero. First of all, look at all Tarzan’s “powers”: He has almost superhuman strength, speed and agility; his senses are all developed beyond normal human levels; he is an expert archer and knife-fighter; and he can talk to the animals. These are all cool powers that can be exploited for fun action sequences.
I have written elsewhere that I think there is a moment in Tarzan of the Apes when ERB creates what amounts to the first superhero. Here it is:
As Tarzan grew he made more rapid strides, so that by the time he was ten years old he was an excellent climber, and on the ground could do many wonderful things which were beyond the powers of his little brothers and sisters.
In many ways did he differ from them, and they often marveled at his superior cunning, but in strength and size he was deficient; for at ten the great anthropoids were fully grown, some of them towering over six feet in height, while little Tarzan was still but a half-grown boy.
Yet such a boy!
From early childhood he had used his hands to swing from branch to branch after the manner of his giant mother, and as he grew older he spent hour upon hour daily speeding through the tree tops with his brothers and sisters.
He could spring twenty feet across space at the dizzy heights of the forest top, and grasp with unerring precision, and without apparent jar, a limb waving wildly in the path of an approaching tornado.
He could drop twenty feet at a stretch from limb to limb in rapid descent to the ground, or he could gain the utmost pinnacle of the loftiest tropical giant with the ease and swiftness of a squirrel.
Though but ten years old he was fully as strong as the average man of thirty, and far more agile than the most practiced athlete ever becomes. And day by day his strength was increasing.
His life among these fierce apes had been happy; for his recollection held no other life, nor did he know that there existed within the universe aught else than his little forest and the wild jungle animals with which he was familiar.
In the modern idiom, Tarzan in the jungle clearly definitely is a kind of limited superhero, along the lines of Wolverine or Batman –and maybe that’ what David Yates has excavated from Burroughs and applied in Legend of Tarzan. Read the article at Cinelinx