The Legend of Tarzan
dir David Yates
scr Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer
prd David Barron, Tony Ludwig, Alan Riche, Jerry Weintraub
with Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L Jackson, Christoph Waltz, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent, Simon Russell Beale, Ben Chaplin, Sidney Ralitsoele, Osy Ikhile, Matt Cross, Madeleine Worrall
release US 1.Jul.16, UK 6.Jul.16
16/UK Warner 1h49
The Legend of Tarzan
Lord of the apes: Skarsgard

robbie jackson waltz
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Legend of Tarzan There's an ambitious scope to this movie that hints at a properly big-scale dramatic adventure. But because every scene is drenched in blockbuster cliches, the serious movie inside never quite emerges. Still, the themes are provocative and the powerhouse cast keeps it involving, adding intelligence and emotion.

In the late 1880s, jungle-raised John Clayton (Skarsgard), better known as Tarzan, is determined to make a life in Britain as Lord Greystoke with his American wife Jane (Robbie). But in deepest Congo, Chief Mbonga (Hounsou) still holds a grudge against him. So Mbonga makes a deal with Belgian diplomat Leon (Waltz) to exchange Tarzan for diamonds. Leon lures John back to the Congo, accompanied by Jane and American adventurer George (Jackson). And when Leon pounces, John must revert to the instincts instilled by the gorillas who raised him.

As a director, Yates relies heavily on digital effects (learned in four Harry Potter movies), so much of this looks animated. Some of this is strikingly effective, such as the use of performance-capture to create key animal characters that look bracingly real. On the other hand, everything from sweeping landscapes to the vine-swinging action feels like it was rendered by a computer. This undermines the smart script's darker edginess, as do some boneheaded moments seemingly added in by a focus group.

Thankfully, the cast never seems to notice those things, delivering complex performances as people grappling with big issues. With his ludicrously sculpted body, revealed one tantalising piece of clothing at a time, Skarsgard brings an impressive physicality, and he adds a brooding emotionality that sparks terrific chemistry opposite Robbie's bright, tough Jane. Her innuendo-rich scene with a superb but typecast Waltz is the film's showstopper. And even as he gets into action mode, Jackson is clearly enjoying one of his most thoughtful roles in years.

It's not as if a Tarzan movie will ever be Out of Africa, but Cozad and Brewer's script shows potential for a much more textured movie than this as it grapples with personal themes of identity and responsibility as well as larger issues of slavery, equality and ruthless capitalism. These are somewhat lost in the flurry of simplistic cinematic tropes (Leon's rosary, Jane's white dress) and whizzy action sequences, most of which feel impatiently edited for audiences with short attention spans. But at least there's something under the surface to engage the rest of us.

cert 12 themes, violence 5.Jul.16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall