John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgård) has adjusted to his life in London with his wife Jane (Margot Robbie). Growing up as Tarzan in the African Congo, John knows the area better than any other man. He is asked to investigate what is going on with a mining operation in the jungle. John reluctantly agrees to return to his childhood home and is accompanied by Jane and George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), an American hoping to uncover the truth of what may be illegal activities in the region.
When the trio arrives in the Congo, John and Jane immediately reconnect with those they left behind. For Jane, this includes a village of locals she grew up with. John is greeted by the wild animals he knew as friends and family, some of whom are not as happy to see him return.
Upon beginning their investigation, John, Jane, and George encounter Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), the man in charge of the mining operation. They quickly find he has less than noble plans for the area and its inhabitants. This includes Tarzan. As Rom continues with his operation, the stakes are raised. Tarzan looks to his animal friends to help stop Rom.
Alexander Skarsgård makes for passable Tarzan. He comes across very brooding, reminiscent of his turn as Eric Northman on HBO’s True Blood. It works well enough, but nothing spectacular. Part of this I attribute to the script. Christoph Waltz revives the bad guy character he plays in just about every movie. I mean, has he ever been cast as the good guy? I guess when you do something well, you don’t mess with the formula. Samuel L. Jackson serves as little more than comic relief. His seemingly bumbling George Washington Williams tries to keep up with what is going on, but always seems a few steps behind. Margot Robbie, on the other hand, proves that women aren’t always damsels in distress. Yes, the conversation between her and Christoph Waltz addressing this particular trope comes off a bit direct and forced. It gets the point across, though. Her character is able to capably hold her own against Waltz and his men. This is even more emphasized in contrast to Samuel L. Jackson’s character.
Some scenes in the movie come across as forced and stilted, trying to get enough back story into the movie that we understand where Tarzan came from and how he got to where he is today. While I applaud the recognition that we don’t need an origin story that has been around for about a century, this leads to a very drawn out introduction to the character. There is also a lot of exposition to bring the audience up to speed on what is going on with the Congo. Again, this is an attempt to get us to care about the story. However, all of this amounts to a movie that feels every minute of its just under 2 hour run time.
With everything mentioned above, it takes a full hour before we get to any action. Once it starts, it gets intense pretty quickly. Tarzan battles against and alongside CGI animals. Some of these come across as cheesy and over-processed. But the action itself works, for the most part. The battles between humans works, for the most part. It is the uneven pacing of the action vs. exposition that makes the film seem a little unbalanced.
The Legend of Tarzan, despite everything above, isn’t a terrible movie. When it works, it works. It just doesn’t work that well for about half the film. In a year of mostly lackluster summer blockbusters, it’s an acceptable film. You won’t walk away regretting seeing it. But you also won’t walk away with a sense of awe.