The Legend of Tarzan

Following a long line of film adaptations of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Tarzan books, The Legend of Tarzan takes a different take on the eponymous character of Tarzan played by Alexander Skarsgård. Almost a decade removed from the African jungles, John Clayton III, also known as Tarzan, is living a life of an aristocrat in England with his beautiful wife Jane played by Margot Robbie. However, at the request of the British government, he is sent back to the Congo as a diplomatic envoy. Accompanied by Jane and the gun-toting American diplomat George Washington Williams played by Samuel L. Jackson, Tarzan discovers that the Congo and his tribal friends are being brutally oppressed by the Belgian colonial powers of King Leopold II. Eventually, Tarzan runs into trouble with the reprehensible Belgian leader Captain portrayed by the always marvelously devious Christoph Waltz. Waltz’s performance is by far the best of the film: his character, based on a real person, nonchalantly orders the wholesale butchering of locals in the greedy pursuit of diamonds. He does all this while dressed in immaculate white suits and clutching a rosary that he uses as a weapon. With the help of his animal friends, including some of the apes that raised him, Tarzan returns to his wild self to rescue Jane and the enslaved tribesmen. Although the story has been told countless times, the film contains flashbacks to Tarzan as a child taken care of by animals and his first meetings of Jane. As a lover of history, I was mostly fascinated by the depiction of Belgian colonialism in Africa in the late 19th century. The movie was set in the Congo Free State at a time when the Belgian military and mercenaries known as the Force Publique exploited the territory for its rich natural resources. Their ruthless stranglehold resulted in what some believe to be an estimated ten million Congolese deaths and the enslavement of millions. The atrocities were a stark reminder to Jackson’s character who witnessed American slavery and the abusive treatment of Native Americans. Interestingly, his character George Washington Williams was a real historical figure who helped expose the brutalities in the Congo. Overall, I found the film to be an entertaining adventure story that brings a unique twist to the Tarzan saga. It is particularly noteworthy for providing a historical context enlightening to many viewers who may never have known about the genocidal Belgian colonialism in the Congo.

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