Review: “The Legend of Tarzan”

3 out of 5 stars.

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan is one of the most filmed characters of all time. Despite the many and various adventures the Englishman raised in the jungle has been on over the past century or so, it’s understandable that bringing something new to the character while also crafting a film that appeals to modern, blockbuster-hungry audiences is a difficult task. But it’s a task that director David Yates decided to take on with “The Legend of Tarzan,” a film that feels overly familiar and predictable, but still manages to be entertaining.

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Unlike the beginnings to most Tarzan stories, this one does not open with him living in the jungle, unaware of how to behave like a human. Rather, at the start of this film Tarzan has taken on his parents’ name and inheritance and is living in England as the Lord Greystoke, John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgard). He is married to Jane Porter (Margot Robbie), and has spent the last eight years since he left Africa trying to leave his past behind. The legend of Tarzan is still known throughout the country, however, and he is reluctant when King Leopold asks him to travel to his old home and investigate the Belgium development of the Congo. Tarzan and Jane eventually go there, but quickly encounter trouble: Leopold’s envoy Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) has agreed to bring Tarzan to his old enemy, the Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), in exchange for diamonds the King needs to bring Belgium out of bankruptcy.

“The Legend of Tarzan” seems to draw on several influences from Burroughs’ stories and previous film and television adaptations that will come off as either pleasant bits of nostalgia or tiresome things that have been done over and over again — take, for instance, the trek to the elephant graveyard that dominated many of Weissmuller’s films. The story itself is rather bland and predictable, but it is punctuated by a series of exciting, over-the-top action sequences that are hard not to enjoy, and that appeal to modern, younger audiences. The script actually does delve into some deeper issues, even if it doesn’t go as deep as it probably could; at one point, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), an African-American envoy to the Congo, admits to Tarzan that the Belgians’ enslavement and poor treatment of the Congolese is as bad as the Americans’ massacres of the Native Americans.

The actors are hit or miss, but for the most part they do a good job with what they’re given. Skarsgard is a decent Tarzan, although as this Tarzan is already civilized at the start it takes a while for him to fully feel like the character we know. But it’s Robbie’s Jane who gets all the good parts, proving that she can hold her on when she is captured by Rom. Flashbacks to Tarzan and Jane’s first meeting when he rescued her from an attack in the jungle give us all the backstory we need, as the origins of these characters are likely familiar even to audiences who didn’t grow up watching Tarzan films. Waltz plays the villain with his usual flair, while Jackson seems to be serving as the comic relief, a role that doesn’t really suit him or this movie.

This film may not be something completely different, but it is an enjoyable new take on an old character, proving that even well into the twenty-first century, the legend of Tarzan still endures.

Runtime: 110 minutes. Rated PG-13.

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