Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1912 story Tarzan of the Apes came at a time when racism and sexism were accepted, and between utilizing a "white savior" narrative, a cinematic trope in which a white person rescues people of color, and presenting its lead woman as a constant hostage, the Tarzan book and its sequels feel now more than a little old-fashioned. So it makes sense, then, that Legend of Tarzan attempted to insert some 21st-century values into the story. For the character of Jane, Tarzan's wife (Margot Robbie), that meant making her more vocal, more spunky, and more of a modern woman who expresses herself strongly, a lot different than the victimized Jane of Burroughs' original story. Even though she has all of these empowering character traits, Jane is still put in scenarios that negate some her feminist qualities. She may be a strong female character and an improvement from the original, but in Legend of Tarzan, she's still seen as a damsel in distress.
The new movie, in theaters now, picks up years after Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard), now going by his birth name, John Clayton, and Jane have left Africa and are living in his family estate in London. Jane works as a teacher, and her happy interactions with her students, both male and female, help the film pass the Bechdel test. But Jane seems out of place in this corset-wearing, aristocratic lifestyle. In the 1972 book, Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke, author Philip Jose Farmer described how, in the original tales, Jane was written as a young woman who had joined her father on various scientific expeditions and therefore was "tough and strong-minded." Yet while Robbie's Jane in Legend of Tarzan definitely features those qualities, how the film unfolds undermines their presence in her personality.