It is a larger-than life adventure - fraught with imagination and excitement – that salutes generations of directors dating right back to the genius of Georges Melies to the prolificness of Robert Stevenson.
Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan character has endured a multitude of incarnations throughout the years, spanning every medium, and his figure immediately resonates with people. The very mention of his name conjures a specific image, and therefore his story is so ingrained that the prospect of a new Hollywood adaptation bares a heavy expectation.
The creators of THE LEGEND OF TARZAN – under the leadership of director David Yates – have considered the legacy carefully and crafted a story that is respectful to the characters and their author, as well as the viewing audience.
Assuming that we know Tazan's story, the film begins a decade after he moved to London, assumed the name of John Clayton III and became a respected member of society. His days of swinging through the jungle are behind him and life is very civilised for he and his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie). When he is invited to lead an expedition back into the Congo to expose the Belgium kingdom's enslavement of native populations he reluctantly returns, along with his wife and an American ambassador (Samuel L Jackson). Upon his return he finds himself hunted by a merciless fortune-hunter (Christof Waltz), who kidnaps Jane with the intention of luring Tarzan to a violent tribe. He intends to trade Tarzan for a wealth of diamonds.
The storyline is less inspired than the overall spectacle of the film, and it is the simple classic narrative that makes it an effective piece of cinema. By starting the film years after the traditional storyline took place the movie offers a fresh new take on the character, while maintaining the core aesthetics. This not only presents a new adventure for us to relish, but also facilitates a clever use of exposition. Writers Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer have weaved a cheeky string of flash-backs into the story that give newcomers a recap on Tarzan's origins. These moments are used minimally and with absolute precision. Their placement is never cumbersome and bares no effect on the film's pacing. In fact THE LEGEND OF TARZAN moves at a cracking pace and is devoid of fat. It's also unexpectedly humorous, and subtly self-referential, which is a very welcome surprise.
The casting is audacious with Alexander Skarsgard leading the film with ease. With a jaw-dropping physique and a performance that relies on expression, he commands the screen and makes it impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. Margot Robbie co-stars as Jane and – again – reminds us why she is one of Hollywood's most sought after actresses. She is gorgeous on screen and offers a graceful and composed performance that perfectly compliment's the character. Lending their support is Christof Waltz and Samuel L Jackson. I was initially apprehensive about their involvement, but their performances are well-restrained and both are careful not to slip into their trademark schtick.
Given the reliance on CGI the film is stunningly realised and absolutely convincing. The environment created is breathtaking and the augmentation between live-action and digital is seamless. David Yates has crafted a spectacular piece of entertainment that reminds us why we go to the cinema. It is 120-minutes of pure and unadulterated adventure. It is brilliantly written, superbly directed and without a doubt one of the year's movie-going highlights.