Times have been rough for Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. Oh, he was a big movie star back in the ’30s and ’40s, but lately?
There was that embarrassing version with Bo Derek in 1981 followed by “Greystoke” a few years later. Neither set the box office on fire. There was a Disney cartoon in 1999 that did well, but that’s the norm for Disney animation. In live action, John Clayton, Viscount Greystoke, has been missing in action.
That all ends this weekend with the release of “The Legend of Tarzan.” The famous creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs is back with all his familiar tricks but with 21st century special effects to back him up. Will this version rise up and be a franchise starter? Only the next few weeks, and probably the overseas box office, can say.
Alexander Skarsgard stars as John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, living the life of the elite with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) in 1880s Victorian England. His life in the jungle is behind him, but we catch up on his past through flashbacks.
John has been called back to the Congo on what he believes is official business, but is really a trap set by Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), the evil envoy for King Leopold. Rom hopes to deliver Tarzan to one of his old enemies (Djimon Hounsou) in exchange for diamonds.
But Rom’s plans are thwarted by John’s rifle-toting buddy, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson). While John is lost in the confusion, Rom settles for Jane as hostage, knowing that her husband will come after her.
You can take it from here. John sheds his civilized persona, and his shirt, and reverts to his former, feral ways to rescue the girl and save the Congolese from evil King Leopold. The plot is paper-thin and predictable, and the pacing is a bit sluggish for this type of movie.
The movie’s selling point is that hopefully you love Tarzan and want to see him in a modern action film. The standard bits are here — the yell, the swinging through the jungle, Jane-as-damsel, Tarzan interacting with animals. I guess Sam Jackson is the substitute for Cheeta as Tarzan’s pal, and that’s a definite improvement.
Like “The Jungle Book” earlier this year, “Tarzan” is captivating in its use of the beauty of the jungle and its wild denizens. This movie isn’t as good as “The Jungle Book,” mind you, but they’re clearly going for the same feel. And the movie is at its best when the focus is on the wildlife rather than the humans.
The cast is fine, although Waltz isn’t nearly as captivating when he’s not working off Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue. The same could be said of Jackson as well. But like I said, the people are the least interesting thing about “The Legend of Tarzan.”