Francesca Rudkin is an entertainment reviewer for NZ Herald.

Movie review: The Legend of Tarzan

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Tarzan starring Alexander Skarsgard.
Tarzan starring Alexander Skarsgard.

Responsible for the final four Harry Potter films, director David Yates now takes on a story that's already been adapted in almost every way possible, and attempts to turn it into a blockbuster that appeals to - well, it's hard to know.

The Legend of Tarzan is all over the place; moody in the vein of a Christopher Nolan Batman movie, ponderously romantic and dramatic, and funny and corny, all interspersed with much-needed action.

The Legend of Tarzan doesn't start at the beginning of Edgar Rice Burroughs' original Tarzan (Skarsgard) story, preferring to begin in London after his return to civilisation and to married life with wife Jane Porter (Robbie).

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Other changes include Tarzan having gone a bit emo, a feisty Jane, and the apeman getting a real-life historical figure as a sidekick; George Washington Williams, played by Samuel L. Jackson.

Tarzan, or John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke, as he prefers to be known, is invited to return to the Congo Free State by the British Prime Minister as a trade emissary, unaware his return has been orchestrated by Belgian Captain Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz in typical villain form), who intends to hand him over to a vengeful local chief (Djimon Hounsou).

Encouraged by Williams, who suspects King Leopold is turning the locals into slaves to rob the country of its rubber, diamonds and ivory, Clayton agrees to return.

And we're off - almost. First, there are reunions with Tarzan's childhood acquaintance and the tribe Jane grew up with, before Rom kidnaps Jane.

What follows are impressive stunts, leaping blindly over cliffs into a jungle of vines below, one-on-one combat with humans and gorillas, and plenty of pensive moments to give Tarzan a backstory. After all, this isn't a story about a jungle-raised guy becoming civilised, it's about taking Clayton back to the bush to unleash his former wild self and incredible abs.

Skarsgard looks the part and adds a layer of complexity to Tarzan, but you wonder if he's overwhelmed by the responsibility of playing this mythical hero - at times he looks slightly startled that he's in the role. What he does have is chemistry with Margot Robbie, who is divine in the role. Adventurous, smart and gutsy, Jane knows her husband will come looking for her - this is after all as much a love story as anything else - but she is more than capable of escaping without him.

But it's Samuel L. Jackson who saves the day. Other that Waltz's little quirks, Jackson alone is responsible for the laughs and lightening the tone.

At first, it feels as if he may have walked on to the wrong set, but after a while, as the only respite to the more serious monkeying around, you can't get enough of him.

A lot of effort and budget has been invested in lifting The Legend of Tarzan beyond its former B-movie status but it doesn't quite come together.

The romantically envisioned Africa looks like it was shot on a studio set (which it was), and although the hyper-realistic computer-generated animals are impressive, they're what we expect after Disney's The Jungle Book or even the Planet of the Apes reboot.

It deserves kudos for not taking a "from the beginning" approach and providing more historical and moral context than most, although the result is also a more convoluted story.

A touch too polite to really sweep you up in the action or romance, at least there's some impressive vine swinging and Alexander Skarsgard's distracting physique to hang on to.

The Legend of Tarzan


Cast: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie
Director: David Yates
Running Time: 108 mins
Rating: M (Violence)
Verdict: Not the epic it sets out to be

- NZ Herald

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