*** stars (out of four)
This summer has not had a “wow” movie like last summer’s Mad Max: Fury Road or Inside Out. But, it has started to recover nicely from a shaky start with agreeably entertaining fare like The Legend of Tarzan.
One of the best decisions made by director David Yates (several Harry Potter films) and screenwriters Craig Brewer and Adam Cozad was to not turn the film into an origin story. Thanks to the endless stream of comic book movies in the 21st century, viewers have seen more than enough of them. Plus, you don’t have to have read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan stories to know the character’s origins already.
When the movie starts, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) is at his manor in England with his bride, Jane (Margot Robbie). They’re lured back to Africa by an American soldier of fortune (the always charismatic Samuel L. Jackson) investigating rumors of slavery and human rights abuses in the Congo by King Leopold of Belgium.
Shortly after arriving, King Leopold’s chief enforcer (Christoph Waltz) kidnaps Jane in an effort to lure Tarzan to a diamond mine guarded by a tribal leader (Djimon Hounsou) who demands Tarzan’s head as payment for access to the mines.
What transpires is good, old-fashioned summer movie fun. Jackson is a funny, irreverent foil to the serious Tarzan, and Yates orchestrates some effective action scenes. Waltz has played charmingly sleazy villains before, and he’s still good at it here.
One last note for history buffs: Jackson’s character, George Washington Williams, was a real person. He served in the Civil War, then worked as a soldier of fortune before dedicating his life to exposing human rights abuses in Africa. It’s worth your time to read a little about him. His story would probably make a good movie on its own.