Before screening The Legend of Tarzan, I saw an interview with its stars Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie, discussing how they were directed to make the Tarzan and Jane sex scene raw and animalistic – specifically, that they needed to go at each other like wild beasts. Sooo… I decided to leave my teen daughter at home and preview this film first.
This Tarzan story takes place years after Tarzan has acclimated to English society. He is now married to Jane and living by his given name, John Clayton III. When he embarks on a diplomatic trip to Africa, he doesn’t realize he’s about to be captured and traded in exchange for diamonds.
What I expected from the movie was vine-swinging action and washboard abs, and Tarzan delivers on that. What I didn’t expect was a history lesson about an era I’m embarrassed to say I knew nothing about: Belgian King Leopold’s 19th–century takeover of the Congo and the subsequent atrocities.
The film inspired me to come home and research everything I’d just seen. While Edgar Rice Burrough’s work is fiction, the story incorporates historical events and characters, like Leopold’s bloodthirsty enforcer Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) and black-rights activist and author George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson). I truly enjoyed The Legend of Tarzan and I think it’s an interesting way to get kids engaged in history. Here’s how you can determine if this film is right for your family:
Guns are used, usually by the bad guys, with the most emotionally impactful moment occurring when a revered character is shot point blank (shown at a distance). But the good guys have guns, too, and an epic scene featuring Williams ends in a machine gun rat-a-tat of glory.
For his part, Tarzan fights with his personal strength, which is impressive (I’m talking about his defensive moves, not his physique – though that is impressive, too). What may be difficult for kids to witness is the violence to animals, and some creatures do die at the hands of man.
During battle scenes, most of the brutality occurs just off camera. Both John/Tarzan and Jane are in peril for a good deal of the film, but it plays out in a way that is more suspenseful than scary.
Sex and Romance
In reality, the “jungle sex” was three seconds of intense kissing. Sure, it’s implied some “mating” went down, but hey, John and Jane have been married for nine years, so I count passion in a long-lasting marriage as a positive! The heart of this action-adventure is not the romance, but the bond between the Claytons.
Other than one “h” word, two offensive comments are made (I’d given the offense level a 2 out of 10 – enough to surprise you, not nearly enough to make you leave the theater).
The Legend of Tarzan gives us the fantasy of watching jungle creatures interact with a human who understands them, a story element that worked earlier this year in The Jungle Book and works here, too. Kids typically love animals, and communicating with lions, ostriches and elephants is a satisfying notion.
The love and commitment between John and Jane is also a fantastic message. The Tarzan story as traditionally depicted is that Jane was a high-society English woman who stumbled across this lost soul (Tarzan) while on an exploration. In this movie, Jane was also raised in the remote Congo among the Kuba tribe, the daughter of an American professor who was teaching them English. The African jungle is her home, but she is still an outsider of sorts, and, therefore, she is the only person who can truly understand Tarzan; and he is one of the few men who can truly understand her. Their connection and the emotional depth of their relationship is a fine example for teens.
The movie also depicts the mass mistreatment of the African people during the colonization of the Congo. The audience watches callous, uncaring foreigners coldly enslave, kill and burn down a village in an effort to get the region’s diamonds. While this may be too scary for younger kids, it may provide an opportunity for discussion with tweens and teens about human rights.
As my 15-year-old daughter is taking a summer world history class, loves animals and enjoys looking at boys with muscles (*honesty*), The Legend of Tarzan is a summer film that could both inform and entertain her.