|Image courtesy of Warner Bros.|
As the film opens, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard, rarely cracking a smile) is going by the name John Clayton and living in a British McMansion with Jane (Margot Robbie). Occasionally, we are treated to a flashback of his growing up in the wilderness - where his parents died - among gorillas and becoming the dude who swings through the treetops and acts as a lion and elephant whisperer.
He is enlisted on a mission to Africa by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson, doing that Sam Jackson thing), a former slave who has been sent on behalf of the U.S. government as a diplomat, but is doubling as an investigator into rumors of slavery in the Congo. Meanwhile, on the other side of the jungle, a slimy creature named Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), a Belgian who is attempting to colonize the region, strikes a deal with a tribal leader (Djimon Hounsou) - who wants to avenge his son's death at the hands of Tarzan - to deliver our hero in exchange for unlimited diamonds.
So, not surprisingly, Jane and some of Tarzan's tribal buddies are captured as a means to lure him and he must make his way through his old stomping grounds to save them with Jackson in tow as a sidekick. Some silliness follows, most notably a scene during which Tarzan must prove himself to the old pack of gorillas with whom he grew up by taking part in a fight with one of them.
Working in the film's favor is its obvious antipathy to western colonization of places where westerners had no business being as well as its villains mostly being historical forces of oppression. On the other hand, the film is ultimately about a white guy from England who has dominion over the jungle and all its inhabitants, who seemingly can't save themselves without his help. Oh, and the tribe with whom Tarzan is friendly can't seem to stop singing, dancing and smiling during scenes that would seem to have been chopped out of some movie from the 1950s.
As a summer blockbuster, "The Legend of Tarzan" isn't half bad. It's fast paced, occasionally funny, has some decent visual effects on display, veers off from the tried and true formula of past Tarzan movies and appears to be socially conscious - that is, when it's not enforcing outdated stereotypes. Its finale, which involves an army of stampeding animals, is possibly more likely to cause snickers than gasps of excitement, but a scene that immediately follows on a boat and involves alligators gets the job done. "Legend" may not be the best or, in all likelihood, the last Tarzan movie, but it'll do.