The Movie Scab: The Legend of Tarzan
"The scab you're picking at is called execution."
--American film producer Scott Rudin.
The Legend of Tarzan: 0 Acks!
That's what they should have called this movie. When Tarzan swings through the jungle, we hear his famous Tarzan roar, what author Edgar Rice Burroughs called “the victory cry of the bull ape," and it sounds just like this:
It’s also high in pitch, not the deep throated roar we associate with Tarzan. In The Legend of Tarzan “the victory cry of the bull ape” sounds like the “soft-bark of a mother gorilla when it wants to discipline a baby.” That’s because this Tarzan has been emasculated. That’s right. The screenwriters and the director cut Tarzan’s balls off.
Now, before going any further, Monkey Boy and I have to deal with some housekeeping and acknowledge a few things:
Bringing Tarzan up to speed for 2016 is a daunting task. To make the character relevant for today’s acutely sensitive audience would require, in the least, some creative reinvention, which screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer where hired to do. I imagine they had good intentions or thought they did, but good intentions don’t mean squat if the execution is crap. And it doesn’t help a damn if they work for the PC Police either. And they do.
Monkey Boy says I should be fair-minded and say it’s A-OK that Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer had a PC agenda. OK, yes, it’s true. It’s also true that I respect the choice they made regarding their PC narrative: if you’re going to screw with the original story, you might as well go 100% and screw with it in a big way, which they indeed have. But I think the PC choice sucks because, in the very least, it’s the easiest, laziest choice for a writer today, but whatever. You are defined by what you do and Cozad and Brewer are now defined as PC.
That’s something they’ll have to live with for the rest of their sad, pathetic, Politically Correct lives.
But here’s the main point: clever writers would have figured out a better way to deliver the PC product. Clever writers would have known how to show it to the audience instead of telling it the audience. That’s screenwriting 101, right? Show, don’t tell. It’s a movie! Visual medium! Hello? Well, Cozad and Brewer throw basic screenwriting out the window and put most of it in the dialogue and tell, tell, tell and it’s about as subtle as a PC sledgehammer in the freakin’ face.
Why would they do that? I can only think of two possibilities. One, they’re lousy screenwriters, but because Brewer is involved, I find that hard to believe. (He should know better because he penned the brilliant Black Snake Moan which happens to have one of Samuel L. Jackson’s best screen performances ever, worthy of a Best Actor). Or two, they think everybody is stupid.
I’m putting my money on number two.
Cozad and Brewer could learn a thing or two from Greystoke: the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984). Like Cozad and Brewer, screenwriters Robert Towne (Chinatown) and Michael Austin had a similar task and it was no less daunting in 1984, and for the most part, they pulled it off. That being the case, there are no excuses for Cozad and Brewer. Greystoke isn’t perfect, of course, but it’s a serious movie. It takes its subject matter seriously and tries to deliver thoughtful commentary on it without resorting to propaganda. There's something to be said for subtlety. Oh, and a funny little thing called respect. Greystoke is what you get when you respect the material. The Legend of Tarzan is what you get when you don’t. It’s hard to make a movie about Tarzan when you’re holding your nose because you think Tarzan stinks.
Oh! My! Ack!
Furthermore, Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, the very clever screenwriters with the daunting task of reinvention, not only had to tear Tarzan from the pages of a story written in 1912, they had to work with material written by an author everyone today labels racist.
But Monkey Boy and I will not take the easy way out like most of the movie critics. We will not shout from the rooftops that Edgar Rice Burroughs was a racist. No, we are not getting on the Hate Edgar Rice Burroughs PC bandwagon. I am wearing my insensitive aloha shirt with pride and it has pictures of Tarzan holding Jane in his muscular arms as he swings on a vine all over it.
I am not, “SO-OO-OO-OO-OO-RR-RR-YE-EE-EE!"
Find that offensive? Well, for those of you who are already convinced I’m insensitive and should be castrated and burned at the stake, let me make it even harder for you. I have read Edgar Rice Burroughs, from Tarzan to John Carter of Mars, and many other stories as well. And I’ve done my research. The truth is, the man was a product of his time. That means he bowed to Imperialism, believed in Social Darwinism and understood a woman’s place was in the kitchen. But racist? Nope. As Michael Sellers concludes, “…any actual reading of the totality of his works must acknowledge that the dominant theme of his racial statements is one of tolerance and respect.” If you don’t like the truth, find yourself a Safe Space and hug it out. While you’re doing that, I’ll sip my martini and keep reading one of the most influential and respected authors in the world without any guilt.
Now that we've got the housekeeping done, let's get back to the movie:
So who exactly cut off Tarzan’s balls?
Blame writer #1: Adam Cozad, who penned the so-dumb-it’s-embarrassing crapfest Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Blame writer #2: Craig Brewer. And, finally, blame director David Yates. Who is director David Yates? Yeah, I didn’t know either. I had to do some serious, time-consuming online research, but I finally stumbled on an obscure Romanian website dedicated to unknown directors that make movies for very, very, very young children. Turns out (no surprise here) that David Yates is one of many directors in a series of movies about an emasculated boy wizard named Harry Potter.
That explains everything.
Thanks to those three people, Tarzan is sorry for everything.
“Me Tarzan and Tarzan sorry for being Tarzan. Tarzan sorry for being white, privileged, rich, colonialist, smarter than everyone else, heroic, perfectly built and for having big, bulging ape-man package. Me Tarzan very sorry, so sorry for everything. I cry now. Like baby.”
Oh! My! Ack!
And what makes it even worse is that the people who made this steaming pile of PC bullcrap want to have it both ways. Can anyone say hypocrisy? Can anyone say double standard? Can anyone say Hillary Clinton? I can!
They’re just like director Darren “the Sledgehammer” Aronofsky. He made Noah, a movie based on a biblical character and event that tried to tell us two stories were true at the same time: human beings evolved from sludge into sea slugs into roaches into monkeys into Adam and Eve, the implication being that God doesn’t exist, and Adam and Eve were created just like the Bible says, so God exists. Well, you can’t have it both ways, pal. Aronofsky tried to please two different points of view, evolutionists and creationists, and that’s a bigfatstupid storytelling mistake, guaranteeing failure. Noah proves you can’t do both.
The Legend of Tarzan struggles with the same damn thing. They apologize for Tarzan but tell us he’s a hero. The people who made this movie are Hollywood’s version of snake oil salesmen. They pitch the classic White Man Fantasy and condemn it at the same time.
What do I mean by White Man Fantasy? Hollywood has been making White Man Fantasy movies since it started making movies. They’re all about the same thing, pretty much: a white man is accepted by an indigenous, nonwhite people, goes native by becoming one of them, falls in love with a beautiful indigenous, nonwhite maiden and then saves the day. That is classic White Man Fantasy storytelling. But since about, say, 1970, when White Man Fantasy movie Little Big Man came out, the story focused more on guilt and less on fantasy. By 1990 you had Dances with Wolves which took it even further: white man accepted by the indigenous, nonwhite people, goes native, falls in love with the only white woman in a 1000 miles who went native too (you can't get more PC than that), finds forgiveness and redemption and then returns to crazy white society to save the indigenous, nonwhite people from the crazy white people, i.e., he saves the day. But Avatar (2009) tops the bill. Director James Cameron took the guilt to its logical extreme and turned his white hero blue, and not only that, he turned him into an entirely different species. The Legend of Tarzan can’t take it quite that far, so all they can do is say sorry a lot.
You know what this movie smells of? Yes, that’s right, the Magic Christian’s feces filled swimming pool. And that’s exactly where it belongs, and if you want to see it, by all means, dive right in and enjoy swimming in raw PC sewage. Monkey Boy would like to watch you do the backstroke with Maleficent. In fact, he’d pay money to see that. So would I.
But it’s even worse than a Golden Calf of Mediocrity. Like Maleficent, it’s pure PC propaganda. Monkey Boy and I hate PC propaganda. The PC propaganda is so shameless, I wondered if Leni Riefenstahl had made this movie, you know, if she were a PC Warrior and she wasn’t. She was a Nazi.
See, The Legend of Tarzan hates its hero. So you might ask, then why make the freakin’ movie? The answer is simple: because it’s PC propaganda! That’s right, they made the movie in order to change Tarzan. They’ve turned him into a PC Warrior. To do that, they have to apologize for everything. If the word “apologize” offends you, you could call it “limiting freedom of thought by altering concepts that pose a threat to your way of thinking” if you like. But apologize works just fine.
And from their point of view, it’s A-OK to do the voodoo that they do because the end justifies the means: one world of force-fed happy happy, joy joy PC bliss—as long as you don’t crimethink, i.e, have a single thought the status quo does not approve of. Tarzan does not belong to the status quo. He is waaay out of their comfort zone. He is guilty of massive crimethink. Yates, Cozad and Brewer had to fix him, change him, force him to think and be like them so that they and the 2016 audience would approve of him.
George Orwell would hate this movie as much as the people who made it hate Tarzan.
They don’t hide it.
The first onscreen image is a wooden cross attached to rosary beads. The man holding the rosary is the bad guy. (Christoph Waltz, a talented actor who is totally wasted in this movie. Even his character’s death is boring.) His rosary is a lethal weapon used to kill people. How cool is that? Now that is pretty darn cool. But here’s the problem: I’m sick and tired of Hollywood picking on the Catholics. I don’t care how much you hate the Catholics, Hollywood has been using them as the bad guys forever. And it’s not just the Catholics. Nine times out of ten, especially in these acutely sensitive times, Hollywood bad guys turn out to be Christians in general. (See dumbfest Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, written by the very clever… Adam Cozad! The bad guys aren’t the Russians. The bad guys are the Russian… Orthodox Church. Huh? And not only that, the mastermind bad guy is a Russian Christian billionaire, emphasis on the word “Christian.” Notice a theme here?)
Now, don’t freak out on me and Monkey Boy. It’s A-OK to have bad guys who are Catholics and Christians in general because, like everything involving human beings, humans screw up everything, including Catholicism and Christianity and everything else. Why, golly, gosh, darn it, take a look at Islam, the religion of peace, and you’ll have to agree. So it’s fair to say there have been some bad Catholic apples and popes throughout history, right? Right. But for the love of some of the Worst Popes Ever (it’s a serious competition between Benedict IX, Stephen VI and Sergius III), how about picking a new religion to be the bad guy for a change? How about a bad Buddhist? Or a bad atheist? A bad Zoroastrian? I’d settle for a bad Christian pagan witch and I knew one once, so don’t yell at me. Yep. Christian pagan witches actually exist.
And here’s another thing: see, there’s a trend in Hollywood movies of late to bend over backwards to show us that good Muslims exist. The reason they’re bending over backwards to show us good Muslims exist is because there are bad Muslims blowing themselves up and shooting and stabbing and hacking and driving trucks through crowds and chopping the heads off Catholic priests all over the world, killing lots and lots of innocent people. Why, golly, gosh, darn it, we better bend over backwards to show the world that good Muslims actually exist. OK. Fine. Fair enough. But why not show us that good Catholics exist too? Not in this movie. No bending over backward for the Catholics, unless, you know, you’re an altar boy.
Which brings me to pedophilic Catholic priests.
In The Legend of Tarzan, Jane brings the subject up. It’s a joke aimed at the Catholic/Christian bad guy, but what it amounts to is nothing less than the writers sociopolitical agenda talking through the characters. Cozard and Brewer are speaking about the Catholic Church in general, see. They’re letting you know how evil Catholicism is. Right there. In the dialogue. Can’t get more obvious than that. And, you know, here’s a thought. If these PC people are as fair-minded as they say they are, why can’t they do that about Islam too? I mean, radical Muslims hang gay people from cranes and throw them from rooftops every damn day. And we can’t have a little joke aimed at the evils of Islam from time to time?
No. No, I suppose we can’t.
It gets worse. The writers (whoops, I mean, Jane, American aristocrat) also let the audience know why she and her father went to Africa. It’s not because they were missionaries. No. God no, we can’t have that these days, even though, in the context of the story it makes sense. It’s all because Jane’s father was a… professor. Who, Jane makes clear, did not believe in spirits. Like those crazy spirit believing, pedophilic Catholics. No, her professor father went to Africa to teach the Africans English. Whew! What a relief. Knowing her father was a professor who didn’t believe in spirits means he wasn’t a Catholic/Christian (read potential pedophile) and that makes having a white, privileged, rich, colonial American aristocrat professor teaching English to African children A-OK! Yay!
Of course, all the westernized characters in the movie, whether they’re English or Flemish or American or whatever, are idiots or evil or both and the performances are caricatures of idiot, evil Westernized people. They’re all cartoons.
Tarzan himself, played by the tall, well-built, well-packaged, white, blond, blue-eyed Alexander Skarsgård, is a sorry cartoon too, ashamed of himself throughout the movie. He looks sorry all the time, hanging his head, eyes cast down—to his credit, Skarsgård’s performance and presence is the best thing the movie has going for it. (And I’m not talking about his abs, which are also impressive.) Maybe the reason he looked sorry all the time is because he wished he was in a different movie. (But I have to point this out, Monkey Boy loved the bit about his big, deformed hands. Monkey Boy wishes he had big, deformed hands like Tarzan’s.)
By the way, Tarzan does apologize—he doesn’t say the words, but he means it. Let me show you:
After being shipwrecked in Africa, Tarzan’s human family, good ol’ mum and dad from England, were killed by disease and gorillas, leaving wee baby Tarzan to fend for himself. He would have died in the jungle if it wasn’t for a loving, sympathetic gorilla mother named Kala, who chose to raise him as her own. This means, then, from Tarzan’s perspective his true mother is the gorilla, not the dead white lady from England rotting in the tree house. Tarzan believes he is a gorilla—sure, he’s a hairless, white, blond-haired gorilla, but in Tarzan’s mind he is all gorilla, baby. Now, before Tarzan is “civilized” and taken back to England and learns that he is, in fact, white, privileged and rich, his gorilla family is attacked by an African tribe. They kill Tarzan’s mother because, well, that’s what they do in the jungle. Tarzan is enraged, as he should be because they killed his mother. So Tarzan and his gorilla brothers go after the humans who killed his mother and Tarzan kills the guy who killed his mother. He gets revenge and it’s justified. The law of the jungle and all that. This causes the father of the man Tarzan killed to become enraged and want to get revenge on Tarzan for killing his son. The law of the jungle and all that. So they war throughout the movie. But when they have their big, final battle, Tarzan kicking the angry father’s ass—it looks like it’s curtains for him—the tearful, angry father shouts, “Where was your honor?” And acutely sensitive Tarzan replies, “I had none.”
That’s the same thing as saying, “Sorry.”
But hold the presses. Why is Tarzan apologizing to the father for killing the man who killed his mother? Or more to the point, why is Tarzan apologizing for something he did when he thought he was a gorilla? He didn’t know anything else but what gorillas know and the movie made it clear the gorilla family approved. Killing the father’s son, the young man who killed Tarzan’s mother, was the honorable thing to do in the jungle.
And, strangely, Tarzan says he had no honor when he did it. If that’s true, it means someone is being dishonored and it ain’t Tarzan or the father or the young man he killed. It’s Kala. Tarzan’s mother.
Apparently, her honor doesn’t matter.
Just what the heck are the very clever writers trying to tell us here, I wonder? Hm…Hm… Hm…
I have a funny feeling it has something to do with the very clever writers PC narrative, don’t you?
Oh! My! Ack!
And then there’s Samuel L. Jackson. He plays an American envoy named George Washington Williams. Some misguided critics give the writers waaay more credit than they deserve by suggesting Jackson is the real hero in the movie, but the truth is, his character gets Tarzan going, yes, but Tarzan drives the movie. Sorry as he is, he isn't inert. The best parts in the movie are when Tarzan gets motivated. Jackson's character is there to provide information, comic relief and more apology.
He's in a number of weak gags that just do not work. For example, following Tarzan’s lead, he jumps from an enormous cliff into the jungle of trees below, an act that would have killed any ordinary human being other than Tarzan and his buddies, and then, moments later, we see Jackson sitting on a tree limb, rubbing his butt. It’s so awful and unfunny I couldn’t believe the scene was left in the movie.
But Jackson also has a lengthy apologetic monologue about the evils of America, focusing on the genocide of Native Americans during the Civil War, something which his character participated in. When he wraps up his sermon, he compares himself to the colonial evil in Africa, concluding that he isn’t any better than them. In other words, America isn’t any better, i.e., the West sucks.
If these guys are involved in a Tarzan sequel, I hope they stop trying to be so clever and make the Tarzan movie they’re dreaming about: the adventures of Jane and her little pet monkey in Manhattan.
My rating: I usually suggest a number of alcoholic drinks to get you in the right frame of mind for the movie, but I don’t think you could consume enough fast enough to do the job. So here’s what you do: dress like a Catholic priest, wear a tee-shirt that say’s “I’m sorry” on it, lie down on a cross and have yourself crucified. That way, you won’t have to go and see this manipulative PC propaganda.