The Legend of Tarzan

 

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Alexander Skarsgård is the latest non-English Tarzan in a revisionist reboot that brings the 

power of the jungle dramatically to life.

 

Legend of Tarzan

 

Cinematically, Tarzan, the 5th Earl of Greystoke, has never had a great press. And considering that he is one of the most celebrated English characters in the history of fiction, it’s extraordinary he’s never been played on the big-screen by a British actor. Here, the Stockholm-born Alexander Skarsgård muddles by with a passable English brogue and is more than physically up to the part. Maybe British actors just can’t cut the muscle. Anyway, this is a reboot of the Edgar Rice Burroughs franchise and while Tarzan remains a rather distant, immeasurable figure, there is much to commend David Yates’ revision.

 

As most of us have a pretty good idea about the origins of the Ape Man, Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer's script jumps straight into an all-new narrative, with nimble flashbacks documenting Tarzan’s rise through the vines of Africa. The time is the 1880s and Tarzan, or John Clayton as he’s referred to here, is now a fully-clothed member of the British aristocracy. At the behest of the British prime minister (a rather odd Jim Broadbent) he is requested to return to Africa (the then-Congo Free State) as a favour to King Leopold II of Belgium. In fact, he is to be used as a trade-off to a hawkish Congolese chieftain (an imposing Djimon Hounsou) in return for access to the diamonds in the region. And along for the ride we have Clayton’s wife, Jane (a sparky Margot Robbie), and an American envoy (Samuel L. Jackson), who has his own agenda. Poor Tarzan never stood a chance…

 

To the film’s credit, the commanding vistas of Africa (in this case Gabon) are made the most of courtesy of Henry Braham's awe-inspiring cinematography and the extensive use of CGI is used to excellent effect, whether recreating Victorian London or all sorts of zoological activity. A climactic stampede on a Belgian settlement is particularly impressive. In fact, the visceral power of the jungle is superbly brought to life in a number of set-pieces, while Christoph Waltz adds another sterling villain to his rogues’ gallery as an unscrupulous, OCD profiteer kitted out in a largely impeccable white suit. There’s also a welcome revisionist stance to the Africa of the period, where the local inhabitants were exploited for their manpower and natural resources. This is both a place and a period that Johnny Weissmuller could not begin to recognise.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou, Jim Broadbent, Christoph Waltz, Simon Russell Beale, Ben Chaplin.

 

Dir David Yates, Pro Jerry Weintraub, David Barron, Alan Riche, Tony Ludwig and Mike Richardson, Screenplay Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, Ph Henry Braham, Pro Des Start Craig, Ed Mark Day, Music Rupert Gregson-Williams, Costumes Ruth Myers.

 

Village Roadshow Pictures/Jerry Weintraub Productions/Riche/Ludwig Productions/Beaglepug Productions/RatPac Entertainment-Warner Brothers.

109 mins. USA. 2016. Rel: 6 July 2016. Cert. 12A.