White Guilt Got Me Twisted: The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

When I was young, I watched reruns of the Carol Burnett Show with my parents. I remember her taking questions from the audience during her opening monologues. I always loved it when an audience member would ask Carol to do the Tarzan call. I’m sure she hated it, but damn was she good. That yell is the extent of my Tarzan fandom. Tarzan is a’ight, he can communicate with animals and all that, but otherwise there’s not much going for him. I’m a Han Solo guy.

These days Tarzan can be a bit tricky, what with political correctness having something to say about a white dude (literally) swinging in and saving the day for Africans. So I was somewhere between apathetic and unsettled going into The Legend of Tarzan.

I don’t know if Tarzan was originally cast as “the ghost in the trees,” which The Legend of Tarzan brought up several times. That imagery is pretty sweet. Tarzan, Batman of the jungle. The ghost metaphor makes his whiteness more palatable. That is, until he moves back to England, gets culture and status as Lord Greystoke, and then comes back to save Africa from “Zee Germans!”

Unfortunately Lord Greystoke is what The Legend of Tarzan focuses on. That just didn’t sit right with me.

Honestly, the whole mess is worrisome. Is Tarzan, as a concept, racist? Popular ideologies can sometimes swing far too wide and lose sight of their original intention. So I have to admit that I might be unfairly judging Tarzan here, so I’ll just move on to the other problems.

Even if I hadn’t been turned off by the political incorrectness, the story was convoluted and lame. The CGI was uneven and “Michael Bay over-the-top” at times. Similarly, the acting jumped from overly sentimental to extra-hairy machismo. There were brief snatches of runtime where the film was good, but mostly The Legend of Tarzan was like trying to ignore an itch, the problems just kept getting worse. There are two specific problems that really bothered me.

First is the love story. Even those of us not well versed in Tarzan lore know about Tarzan and Jane. Since the movie doesn’t spend much time explaining Tarzan’s backstory I question why the filmmakers felt it necessary to give us Tarzan and Jane’s love story. Okay, maybe a little would be fine. What is completely unnecessary, and more importantly fucking stupid, is the horrible “mating calls” foreplay between Tarzan and Jane. Yes, you read that correctly. Tarzan makes animal mating sounds and Jane’s thingy gets all tingly identifying each in turn. Why not show us the crazy monkey fuck positions Tarzan learned? That’d be cool. It would be like a rodeo. Considering Tarzan’s super strong, Jane’s basically a cowgirl trying to hold on for the 10 second ride. (That’s right, Tarzan’s a two-pump chump. I mean, come on. Otherwise he’d be a Mary Sue, right?)

The mating noises are not completely gratuitous. They foreshadow something to come later, but there are any number of things the filmmakers could have shown that wouldn’t have come off so shameful and cheesy. Ugh!

Second is Samuel Jackson’s performance. He stuck out worse than when he tries to have a polite conversation in a library. I don’t mean to disparage Jackson in general. I think he is a great actor, when cast properly. Thing is, Samuel Jackson is like Sean Connery. They fit certain roles perfectly. Otherwise when they’re on screen their performance shrieks, “LOOK AT ME, SAMUEL JACKSON/SEAN CONNERY, ACTING!” Oftentimes Jackson’s performances are almost yelling. In other words, Jackson doesn’t give a shit that he sticks out worse than a raging erection in a monastery shower.

So, all together, I can say, “I saw The Legend of Tarzan,” which isn’t saying much. I can also say, “I wish I would have done something else with my time and money,” which is true, and says all that needs be said.

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