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The Legend of Tarzan
Genre Adventure
 
Review:

"Me Tarzan, you Jane." This is the essence of Tarzan, King of the Apes. A feral man tries to relate to a civilised woman, creating a tension between their worlds as they attract and society repels. In The Legend of Tarzan, we are cast into the future beyond the events of Greystoke: the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.

Instead of Tarzan's revolutionary transition from ape to man, the story concerns a return to the wild and adopting old ways. Tarzan, now better known as John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke, has grown comfortable in his new life as an aristocratic gentleman and folk legend. However, he reverts to Tarzan after he's lured back to the Congo to investigate activities at a mining encampment.

Much like Dracula Untold, this revision of a tale made famous by Edgar Rice Burroughs, has been given a revamp and the superhero treatment with an emphasis on human strength, fist fighting and the ways of the jungle. Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes was more dramatic with Christopher Lambert sporting the loincloth and communing with men dressed in ape costumes.

With the advent and success of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, you could say that it was high time for yet another Tarzan movie. Instead of Lambert, we have Alexander Skarsgård, who made a remarkable physical transformation through heavy workouts and diet demands. Skarsgård is a solid actor and one of the few actors in Hollywood able to be taken seriously without a shirt on. According to him, he took the role to please his father and brother, fans of the Tarzan character and comic books.

Skarsgård has got a coldness, which keeps you on the outside, something that works for and against The Legend of Tarzan. Like an animal, there is a primal intensity to his performance but we never get close enough to form any attachment with his character, beyond the role of hero. To soften the edge, we have the ever versatile Margot Robbie as the tough damsel, Jane, and Samuel L Jackson as George Washington Williams in one of his most comical performances in recent memory. Playing a sharpshooter and sidekick, he completes the alternate buddy movie team in a Danny Glover "I'm getting too old for this shit" way. His Quentin Tarantino connection is made even more evident by the presence of Hollywood's favourite bad guy, Christoph Waltz, who stars as the shifty and sly Leon Rom. Waltz does his usual thing as the charming moustache-twirling Poirot style villain with a few maniacal quirks. It's a terrific cast, rounded off with the likes of Jim Broadbent and Djimon Hounsou.

Director David Yates, best known for the Harry Potter series, connects the classic story with contemporary visuals. This is essentially a period piece action-adventure with dramatic and romantic elements. The visuals have finesse, while the visual effects and production design are impressive, setting the cold architecture of London off against the tropical jungles and African plains of Congo. The gorilla species and animals are real enough, but pale in comparison with films like Rise of the Planet of the Apes and The Jungle Book. The Legend of Tarzan is a feast for the eyes with everything from the visual artistry and locations to the beautiful cast and wardrobe.

Although, this is definitely a case of style over substance. While you could imagine the filmmakers hoping you'd equate this with The Last of the Mohicans or The Ghost and the Darkness, it lands in the same territory as The Mummy. While it features a strong cast, it's emotionally distant, offering the audience great actors playing flimsy characters. Unfortunately, it's tonally-challenged veering from period piece sincerity to cheesy buddy movie fluff. While entertaining, there are plenty of unintentionally funny moments, from Tarzan's effortlessly caveman physique to his variety of mating calls. It's not quite Ace Ventura: Nature Calls ridiculous, but you imagine it's going to be a boon… or baboon to the spoof genre someday.

The Legend of Tarzan is somewhat redeemed by its stellar cast, classic tale, social conscience and visual splendour - making it simple yet entertaining. While everything looks the part, it fails to engage beyond the surface of things, playing to action-packed laughs instead of sweeping drama. If you want to disengage and immerse yourself in almost two hours of pure escapism, you could do worse, but this skimpy Tarzan revamp doesn't have the weight of character, emotion or imagination to make it truly great.

The bottom line: Passable

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