Settling into the feature director’s chair for the first time since wrapping up the “Harry Potter” series, David Yates tackles another giant of English literature as he swaps the Dark Lord for the Lord of the Jungle in a movie that may as well have been titled “Tarzan Begins”.
Years after leaving Africa and returning to his ancestral seat of Greystoke, John Clayton III (Alexander Skarsgård) is pressed into service by His Majesty’s Government to visit the Belgian Congo at the invitation of the King of Belgium but refuses until persuaded by American envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L Jackson). However the invitation is part of an elaborate scheme devised by the malevolent Belgian governor Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz) and only Tarzan will be able to stop his relentless exploitation of the natives.
There’s more than a whiff of Christopher Nolan in this bracingly action-adventure take on the tale of the young boy raised in the jungle. With a neat line in mismatched buddy comedy, Jackson and Skarsgård develop a pretty good chemistry and Margot Robbie’s Jane is one of the least clichéd realisations of the role, eschewing the feeble damsel in distress trope for a bolder, feistier take. Waltz brings all of his villainous, moustache-twirling charm to the role of Rom, giving him far more character than his recent turn as Blofeld.
Despite an uneven pace and some variable quality CGI, “The Legend Of Tarzan” manages to pack in some great Tarzan action set-pieces while giving the age-old tale a refreshing modernity despite its period settings. The more troubling aspects of colonial Africa are glossed over somewhat but not in service of any agenda other than to deliver a ripping yarn of the likes we haven’t seen in the cinema for a while. Not quite the chest-beating king of the cinematic beasts the makers may have hoped, the source material hasn’t have been perfectly revived but the high calibre cast get it over the finish line with a modest flourish, more than enough to shine in this lacklustre blockbuster season.