To begin with, I can't say I've ever been a huge fan of Tarzan. As a kid, I watched the Ron Ely TV series and enjoyed it, but never watched the hugely popular film series or most of the latest incarnations. Maybe Bo Derek's vanity project "Tarzan The Ape Man" in 1981 killed it for me. It was one of the worst films ever made, in or out of the jungle. My fave Tarzan film to date was "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan" from 1984, the big budget stately remake that felt more Downtown Abbey than Tarzan.
This 2016, $180 million budget production, THE LEGEND OF TARZAN gets a lot of things right from the start.
Tarzan is already Lord John Clayton, scratch all the backstory on growing up with apes, except for some very good and emotionally resonant flashbacks establishing his backstory with speed and style.
Tarzan is well cast, played by Alexander Skarsgard with style and a touch of humor, more like a vine swinging James Bond than Lord of the Jungle for the first hour of the film.
Margot Robbie is a perfect Jane, all spunk and modern woman carving a path in the late 1800's and far from the screaming damsel in distress usually conjured up by the "me Tarzan, you Jane" stereotypes.
Our villian is one of our best screen bad guys, Christoph Waltz as Leon Rom, the right hand of a king that has a diabolical plan for slavery and diamonds across the Congo.
When the last piece of Rom's plan for domination involves delivering Tarzan to a Congo native war lord (powerfully played by Djimon Hounsou), Tarzan and Jane are lured back into the jungle and into a terrific adventure that spans the last hour plus of the film.
The CGI effects are incredible. There are so many terrific scenes with our actors interacting with gorillas and jungle creatures of every type. The action sequences are always defined, well executed and easy to follow, never slipping into the mind-numbing CGI battles that seem to doom almost every modern action flick.
David Yates directed four of the final "Harry Potter" films and knows how to spin a lot of story in two hours and create amazing visual worlds.
I couldn't tell where the African location filming ended and the CGI began, but its visually a beautiful film to watch.
My only minor issue was with Samuel L. Jackson, who tags along on the adventure with Tarzan. He has some fun moments, but it often seemed like Jackson was shoe-horned into the story to provide some modern humor and gags into the mix. His character George grew on me by the end, but the trio of Skarsgard/Robbie/Waltz could have carried the film just fine without the distraction. I'm a huge fan of Jackson's, he just seems stuck with an oddly written part here.
For me, the adventure was enjoyable from start to finish, filled with eye-popping action and surroundings and was surprisingly enjoyable.
It gets a vine-swinging, stylish B.