A few weeks ago, I signed up for WB Tickets, where you can get free tickets to advanced screenings of new movies. The first one I was able to snag was for Legend of Tarzan.
I was not very excited by the trailers, but I am not one to turn down a free movie. And I am a big fan of Christoph Waltz. On the Monday before general release, I ran home after work, changed into a t‑shirt and basketball shorts, and caught the train down to the Dolby Theater. Hollywood and Highland is always jam-packed with tourists, so I did not know where to go from the station. Besides the usual throng, there were metal security barriers along Hollywood Boulevard and lines for Tarzan pop-ups in the partially-closed street. The first looked like a photo booth with some cardboard cut-outs. The second was bigger and looked like a jungle-themed bar. I walk towards the Dolby Theater entrance and there are additional barriers from the street up to the theater to keep passers-by from interrupting some sort of red carpet-ish event. There is no actual red carpet, and no press, but the crowds are just standing along the barriers with camera phones in hand.
I ask a security guard how I get into the movie screening, and he tells me to go to the box office. The box office is on the other side of the barriers, but I talked to another guard right by it on my side, and he tells me the line starts on the street. I head back out to the street and go to the beginning of the barriers, where a third security guard impatiently tells me the screening pass says exactly where I am supposed to line up. I go to the correct spot, which I had previously discounted because there was a stand for a local radio station there and I thought it was a line for another event. It turns out, the radio station was checking in VIPs, but the normal line was also there. So I am in line, which has now doubled back away from the official check-in point, no one has looked at my pass yet. I oscillate between feeling like a dumbass and worrying that I will not make it in. Some people in line are incredibly well dressed, like they are going to the opera.
The appointed start time comes and goes and I am getting more nervous. Finally, the line lurches to life. After I round the corner and up the stairs, some theater staffers have a checkpoint. They scan my pass, give me a quick once-over, and bottom-deal me a ticket from a giant stack. I hustle into the theater, where free popcorn and Coke products are available. A series of ushers show me to my seat, which is in the very upper left corner of the orchestra level, in a folding chair in what I assume is a wheelchair spot. The edge of the mezzanine level blocks a slice of the top of the screen from my view, so I am a little annoyed, especially since I see people who were behind me in line moving forward to better seats. The better-dressed people.
After everyone is settled, the lights dim and two men step out in front of the screen.
It turns out, this was not just an advance screening. This was the Hollywood première! Those two men were David Yates and David Barron, director and producer. They proceeded to thank the cast (who were sitting in the audience!!!), and some behind-the-scenes folks, including a producer who passed away. Also attending was the First Lady of Gabon, where the aerial shots of Africa were filmed. And with that, the movie started.
Based on the trailer, I thought it was going to be a fairly standard retelling of the Tarzan story. Instead, it starts later in his life, when he is “civilized” and back in England, having reclaimed his family’s lands and title. He is already married to Jane, and goes back to Africa at the invitation of the Dutch king. His origin story and his early relationship with Jane are covered through interspersed flashbacks.
The plot is so-so, along the lines of any summer action/adventure flick. Everything keeps flowing despite some nonsensical points. The Earthporn shots are amazing. Samuel L. Jackson, who I did not even know was in the movie, was comedic gold. He plays the straight man to Tarzan’s superhuman feats, and even though he cannot carpet f‑bomb because it is a PG-13 movie, you can see it in his facial expressions.
Margot Robbie has talked up her desire to play empowered women, and this Jane definitely fits. Besides refusing to scream “like a damsel” as we saw in the trailer, she fights against her captors every chance she gets. The natives, on the other hand, are not empowered at all. They are cannon fodder in the “nature vs. technology” or “native vs. invader” or “black vs. white” war, and are basically just another resource at Tarzan’s disposal. Sure, Tarzan respects his adopted tribe and the chief makes a valiant sacrifice, but in the final showdown, the combined tribes literally stand on the cliffs and do nothing as Tarzan takes out the invading army single-handedly.
All in all, see it for the great shots of Africa and for Sam Jackson. As for me, I will put my theory to the test by dressing up next time to see if I get better seats.