Netflix needed a superhero, and instead, it got the Lord of the Jungle. Only a few days after arriving on the streaming platform, the 2016 film The Legend of Tarzan has raced to the top of the list of the most popular movies on Netflix right now. This is even more impressive considering that many of the DC superhero films from the last decade are also currently on Netflix, and most of them didn’t even come close to landing at No. 1 like The Legend of Tarzan did.
Why are people flocking to this film eight years after its release? The Legend of Tarzan was a modest hit at the time, but it didn’t earn a sequel. Regardless, the qualities that made it such an engaging film in 2016 are the same three reasons why you should watch The Legend of Tarzan on Netflix.
Director David Yates really hit the jackpot when casting The Legend of Tarzan. Prior to starring in The Northman, Alexander Skarsgård was best known for his role as the vampire Eric Northman on HBO’s True Blood. Amazingly, The Legend of Tarzan is Skarsgård’s only superhero-adjacent film to date. His physicality and chiseled body went a long way toward earning him the role. But Skarsgård also proves to be very adept at emoting in this film. His Tarzan isn’t some brainless hunk. He’s a thoughtful man of action. In that way, Skarsgård captures the essence of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ iconic hero.
Similarly, casting Margot Robbie as Tarzan’s wife, Jane, is even a bigger accomplishment now that Barbie has established Robbie as a megastar in her own right. It wouldn’t be a Tarzan story if Jane didn’t get into some peril, but Robbie also gives Jane the wit and courage that made Tarzan fall in love with her in the first place.
Samuel L. Jackson has a strong supporting turn as George Washington Williams, while Christoph Waltz once again proves to be a great cinematic villain with his portrayal of Captain Léon Rom. Additionally, Djimon Hounsou appears as Chief Mbonga, a man who has a grudge against Tarzan over the death of his son. Getting that group of performers together in a single film was quite a coup, and that went a long way toward making this film work.
Even The Legend of Tarzan has been called a “white savior” story, which is a common critique of Burroughs’ stories when viewed from a modern perspective. What this film does differently is that it actually confronts the issue of colonialism head on. At the start of the movie, Tarzan is living comfortably in London with Jane, and he doesn’t seem to be eager to come back to Africa. It’s only through Williams’ insistence that Tarzan reconsiders, especially once he learns that the Congolese people are being enslaved by the Belgians.
Jackson’s character, George Washington Williams, was inspired by a real person who actually did spread the word about the Belgian militia’s atrocities in the Congo, and he didn’t have a Tarzan to back up his heroism. In the context of this film, Tarzan realizes that he not only has a responsibility to help the people of his former homeland, he also has the same obligations to the ape family that raised him. Tarzan is a man of two worlds, and he has to decide which one he wants to live in, and what that means to him.
Although The Legend of Tarzan does have that political backdrop, it’s also a summer movie at heart that’s worthy of superhero status. Compared to 2023’s lackluster superhero flicks, especially The Flash, The Legend of Tarzan looks even better because it’s an old-school action adventure. This isn’t a movie that descends into misery or despair. It’s the story of an extraordinary hero who has endured in pop culture for over a century. The film also lets the normal people in Tarzan’s orbit, including Jane and Williams, have their own moments of heroism.
There may not be another Tarzan movie anytime soon, but the more people that watch this flick the more likely it is that the legend could eventually live on. But good luck getting this cast back together again. That would have always been the hard part.
Watch The Legend of Tarzan on Netflix.
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