This weekend, an old dog learns new tricks, as the story of Tarzan makes its way back into theaters with some millennial updates to its familiar Edwardian script. The Legend of Tarzan stars Alexander Skarsgaard as Tarzan, and Margot Robbie as his wife Jane, and though it didn’t earn quite enough to top Finding Dory, The Legend of Tarzan was something of a surprise hit, pulling in $48 million over the four-day holiday weekend despite mixed reviews. Who knows what made Tarzan overperform, but the ensuing spectacle is a parade of funky accents, rabid gorillas, and, more than anything, some very jumpy cultural politics.
This revamp on the familiar story follows a now-domesticated Tarzan as he treks back into the jungle on a mission to end slavery, but The Legend of Tarzan persistently resists following the threads of its own story — lest the very thin fabric holding together this white king of the jungle fantasy come unraveled. The movie tries to acknowledge real history by enlisting Samuel L. Jackson onto Tarzan’s team as abolitionist George Washington Williams in the fight against Christoph Waltz’s historical baddie — Leon Rom, a captain in the Belgian army at the turn of the century famous for his brutality in the Congo. But no one mentions that colonial exploitation continued in the Congo for 70 years after Tarzan’s wildebeest stampede supposedly scared the Belgians away. And its ahistorical politics aren’t any more illuminating than its historical politics. Jane is a plucky and outspoken heroine … but she still spends the entire movie waiting for her man to save her. Tarzan’s allies in the Kuba tribe are nonviolent and self-sufficient … but they still look to Tarzan for protection and leadership. In its attempts to justify its source material, The Legend of Tarzan comes across as culturally confused from its first scene to the last, but in the end, this very incoherence proves to be its one saving grace. The movie would be offensive if it weren’t so hard to take seriously.
Honoring the silliness of the movie at hand, we conjured up some limericks for anyone who saw The Legend of Tarzan this weekend and left — as we did — with unexpected questions about colonialism, ape man accents, and the equitable division of Oscars among the Legend of Tarzan cast.
We got wise after Ant-Man’s deceit,
When Rudd’s abs left the screen something fleet.
Shirt’s on for an hour,
Try not to get dour,
Tarzan’s slow but he’s brought his receipts.
This Tarzan was hailed out of Sweden,
But his voice is British in greeting.
His girlfriend’s an Aussie,
Accent à la Degrassi,
Yet she taught him The Queen’s upon meeting?
The gorillas in Tarzan like rough play,
No good guys with guns scare them away.
They pound Tarzan’s back,
Causing nary a crack,
Fam, how to explain this to Harambe?
Sam Jackson needs no introduction,
His conscience should feel no compunction,
His costumes are frilly,
This movie is silly,
But his bank account notes no deduction.
The Oscars snubbed Robbie’s big breakthrough,
In years past, the same happened to Hounsou,
Oscar brush-offs stay prevalent,
Wait, how is this relevant?
The Academy already gave Waltz two. 👀
Jane’s not a damsel in the least.
She’s savvy with jokes about priests.
"These lines are so clever!"
Clever Jane stays shackled and leashed.
Behold racist colonialism,
Presented now with optimism!
Tarzan is trying,
Acknowledging men dying,
But some histories are weird as escapism.
On blackness, see Tarzan demur,
Which stereotype do you prefer?
Savage, with egos?
White Jesus — oops, Tarzan! — plays savior. 🙏