Because of the current cultural and political landscape, a good chunk of the promotion around Beauty and the Beast (2017) centered on discussion of how Belle was a feminist character, an inventor, an independent person. Belle pretty much lived up to the hype, but there was another recent film whose female lead character was sold in the same way who didn’t: Jane in The Legend of Tarzan (2016).
When discussing casting Margot Robbie as Jane, director David Yates said he needed a Jane who was feisty and could take care of herself. And Alexander Skarsgård, who played Tarzan, said: “It was very important that we didn’t want it to feel archaic or dated, where it’s like, tough guy has to save the poor girl. You have to feel that she’s strong and independent, and when you cast Margot, you’ll definitely get that.” 
On choosing to play Jane, Robbie said: “There’s no way I was going to play the damsel in distress,” but after reading the script, “It just felt very epic and big and magical in some way. I haven’t done a movie like that.” 
Having read that, going into the film I assumed they, you know, updated the character and gave her more to do than just being a damsel in distress. But I have to say, the 1999 Disney version of Jane is better than this 2016 version.
Sure, Jane in The Legend of Tarzan talks back to Tarzan and the bad guy whose name I don’t remember, and she attempts an escape after she’s been captured, but she does next to nothing the entire film. Jane is solely in the film to be captured by the bad guy and saved by Tarzan. She stands around and does nothing while Tarzan fights the various bad guys, and is recaptured almost immediately after attempting an escape.
Jane is a pointless and forgettable character – to the point that I wouldn’t be able to write a whole article about her even if I tried – but what makes her pointlessness even worse is the PR surrounding the film.
Jane was sold as an updated version of the character who is now feisty and independent and not a damsel in distress. But while she refuses to scream “like a damsel”, she is absolutely a passive wife who sits around waiting to be saved. In terms of her capability: Jane is not physically strong, she shows no intelligence or ability to problem solve aside from stealing a key, but I guess she doesn’t cry so there’s that. Jane has no goals and no storyline aside from Tarzan’s wife who gets captured. There is nothing updated about her.
Given the current cultural and political climate, it makes complete sense to me that the actors and director would sell the film, at least partially, on Jane being an updated version of the character who is now strong and independent. But to me it seems they straight up lied, because Jane is nothing of the sort.
Jane is pointless and forgettable, but the fact that she was sold as strong and independent is more annoying to me than the fact that she is pointless and forgettable.
- Devan Coggan, March 30, 2016, “Legend of Tarzan: Margot Robbie punched Alexander Skarsgård during a sex scene”, Entertainment Weekly.
- Jonathan Van Meter, May 13, 2016, “Tarzan’s Margot Robbie on Why She’s No Damsel in Distress”, Vogue.