Cinelinx: “Will the Legend of Tarzan Get It Right?

A1, Other Stuff

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


  • I couldn’t agree more. There are so many comments out there that show that many people haven’t a clue about ERB’s Tarzan and that he was indeed one of the first superheroes ,if we discount Greek Mythology ( Herules and his ilk) and ,of course Beowulf.There are those out there, myself included, who are trying to set the record straight for those who think it’s totally unreal for Tarzan to be clean shaven,capable of fighting in hand to hand combat with a bull ape and to move with the speed he does. I hope more fans add their voices to those already doing such a great job. The fact that all of these things were shown in the trailer,naive some the idea that Yates’ Tarzan will come the closest yet to the Tarzan ERB created. The look on Tarzan’s face placed side by side with the snarling anthropoidal Great Ape definitely suggests that Tarzan will get very savage indeed and deal with his enemies as his beast side dictates. Jane’s voice over points out that Tarzan is not ” normal” which makes me think Yates fully intends to get into that abnormal side of Tarzan more than just the obvious speed and vine swinging.the comments Skarsgard makes about his character and the leaking back of the layers to the primal beast within makes me think it too. Skarsgard,by the way,is a master at adding layers to a character and then pealing them away.

    Yes, there are differences between Tarzan and Batman as pointed out above,good ones I think since if he was too Batman -like,just in a jungle setting,it would be too redundant. I like it that Tarzan fights for somebody rather than an esoteric cause because it makes him a personal hero,one we can all relate too. Also ,he does share similarities with Wolverine in the aspect of his beast side and ferocious savagery but Wolverine is a genetically modified human being and Tarzan is fully human, Tarzan is unique when it comes to super hero types in that he has fully developed his beast nature based on his primal genetic heredity to adapt to his jungle environment while at the same time taking full advantage of his human side which gives him greater athletic flexibility, speed due to his lighter frame and of course a greater more strategic intelligence. All of these qualities were pushed to maximum levels by .tarzsn just to survive, it makes for a very facinating interesting action hero.

    We do need ERB’s Tarzan included in our movie hero action adventure pantheon and I really really hope Yates has done a fantastic job creating him and telling his story in a way as to capture the love and facination he has always engendered.

  • That what I discovered when I read Tarzan of the Apes, which was not long ago! My perception of the character was a “Superman of the jungle”, which to me was boring. I love Superman, don’t get me wrong (and don’t get me started on this “Man of Steel” abomination), but it was also because of the sci-fi aspects of it. Tarzan had none of these, so… But when I read the book, I indeed discovered that he was really Wolverine! Animal first, human second, and not apolegetic for it. I was stunned because I had no idea. Now that Wolverine is such a popular character since 2000 no less, it’s more than enough time to bring that aspect to the forefront.

    The huge difference with Batman is that Bruce Wayne chose to fight crime. John Clayton had no choice but training to survive. I thought the “no man started with less” quote strikes a nerve here. And Batman fights for an abstract cause. Tarzan as all Burroughs heroes fights for somebody.

  • I’d love to see more articles like this…ones that speak to the source material for Tarzan. There are a lot of comments on various sites the show how little people know about the Tarzan story — no chest hair, does he shave, isn’t Jane suppose to be British, it’s not fun like Disney, why is he superhuman, really he’s going to fight gorillas?, and on and on. I hope as WB continues with their ad campaign there’ll be more opportunity to educate the potential viewers regarding the source material and that what we’ve seen in this trailer and, hopefully, future ones, is not farfetched or some mad deviation from Disney. It has been good to read commenters who have attempted to ‘set the record straight’.

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