Tarzan is returning to the big screen this summer for the first time in over 15 years, and David Yates’s gritty, live-action blockbuster looks pretty baller. Starring a hulked-out Alexander Skarsgård and his abs, Legend of Tarzan may be the closest thing we’ve seen to the superhuman hero first imagined over a century ago.
Young audiences mostly know Tarzan from the 1999 Disney-animated film, which, although excellent, is quite tame compared to the canonical character. Tarzan is the creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs, a serial novelist who first published Tarzan of the Apes in 1912. The novel was a precursor to the comic books, and shares a lot of elements with the superhero narrative, especially when it comes to its protagonist. Because Burroughs truly intended him to be one.
Tarzan’s superpower is the fusion of his humanity with animal instinct. He not only possesses, but epitomizes the best aspects of each. His (specifically noble) English blood grants him an innate rational and emotional intelligence that allows him to reign superior over the animals he is raised among, teach himself to read (Burroughs objected heavily to the ‘I Tarzan, you Jane’ thing in the 1932 film adaptation), and rejoin proper civilization after years in the jungle. And yet his primitive animal side can be unleashed like a secret identity, ripping open his shirt to reveal the superhero costume that is raw muscle and rage.
‘Legend of Tarzan’ looks like a really fun action movie. Skarsgård is an excellent choice for Tarzan: he has the look and the crazy acting creds that suggest he’s down to go totally ape. The trailer is dope and the effects look good.
What is troubling about the movie, however, is the decision to set the film in the very real, very horrible Belgian occupation of the Congo. A Hollywood summer blockbuster should probably not try to navigate a barbaric, historic tragedy with a fantasy action hero. In reality, Tarzan does not need a historical anchor at all.
Which is why it’s time for Tarzan to get the full superhero treatment, preferably with a live action television series. Any future adaptation should steer away from the historical and tack heavily toward the fantastic. The original book series blends fantasy with early science fiction and was driven by mass consumption. That means Burroughs gifted us with twenty-five glorious, no-holds-barred, balls-to-the-wall sequels from which to choose storylines.
There are so many completely fictional lost cities and races of apemen tucked into endless ‘secret valleys’ of the jungle to choose from.
Animation would be the safest route for a reboot, (some of the whackier original material did make it into a ‘70s animated series) but, could there be a place for a glossy, high production value, and completely bonkers old-school serial?
As much as we’ve loved the rise of the long-form television show, with a slow burn narrative unfolding over the span of a season, there is still something compelling about the century-old serial. We have seen some truly magnificent advances in film and television, but we lost the art of the true cliffhanger, which, it turns out, is best done with an utter disregard for realism.
Let’s be honest, we watch plenty of shit that doesn’t make much sense just because it looks cool.
So I say it’s high time to take Tarzan back to his wild, over-the-top roots. All the material you could possibly want has already been written. Here are a few of Burroughs’s zaniest sequels that could be brought to the screen:
Tarzan and the Huns: WWI-era Tarzan hunts Germans. With the help of a lion.
Tarzan at the Earth’s Core: The best part is not that Tarzan journeys to the center of the Earth, it’s that he actually does so to rescue a scientist from the pirates that live in the center of the Earth.
Tarzan and the Antmen: Tarzan becomes embroiled in the affairs of a race of tiny men and yes, they do shrink him down to antman size via mad scientist.
Tarzan the Terrible: Tarzan rescues Jane from a valley filled with dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are canon.
If any Starz producers are reading, I’m available to write this bad boy.