Film review: The Legend of Tarzan (12A)

After years in enforced civilisation, Tarzan, aka Lord John Clayton, returns to the jungle and steps back into his past.

Samuel L Jackson and Alexander Skarsgard in The Legendof Tarzan.
Samuel L Jackson and Alexander Skarsgard in The Legendof Tarzan.

It will result in bloodshed, war and a reckoning with an old enemy. David Yates’s take on the old Tarzan tales is rooted in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ character, making numerous references to his youth and flashing back to the trauma in the jungles of the Congo.

When Clayton and his wife – the Jane we know and love, played by Margot Robbie – go home they take with them the corrupting influences of civilisation – even as they prepare to face it full on. That is represented by Leon Rom, a brutal functionary as played by Christophe Waltz, and George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), a gun-slinging westerner who acts as the film’s walking, talking conscience.

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This journey into darkness lays out its building blocks from the off. Tarzan and Rom will confront one another, Tarzan will also be forced to deal with the ghosts of his past and Jane will face a variety of perils.

It’s a fabulous-looking film and steeped in Victoriana. But it takes rather too long to build a head of steam even as our hero talks with the animals and Jackson strides around in his wide-eyed, shouty-voiced way.

The backdrop is one of slavery and empire building but at its simplest this is a portrait of a man doing what a man’s gotta do. Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) clings to vines and zooms through the trees like Spider-man, and is the kind of super-strong bloke who can take out an entire train carriage of enemy soldiers.

It’s all a little too reminiscent of Indiana Jones albeit without the verve and gags. But it does set up the potential for a franchise.