‘The Legend of Tarzan’ gets tangled up in the vines

- Brian Truitt @briantruit­t

This Tarzan is no king of swing. The latest intersecti­on of Hollywood and vines, director David Yates’ The Legend of Tar

zan ( out of four; rated ** PG-13; in theaters nationwide Friday) isn’t an adventure fitting the long legacy of the iconic pulp hero. And while it looks great with its gorgeous computer-generated foliage and realistic animals, the story focuses too much on its stiff hero and a one-note villain rather than the big-picture ideas it raises in passing.

Set in the latter days of Victorian-era England, John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgård) is entrenched in his job as a London nobleman and eight years re- moved from his gig as the jungle VIP in the Congo. Before he became the Aristocrat Formerly Known as Tarzan, his family was shipwrecke­d in Africa, where he was orphaned and raised by gorillas; later, the feral kid fell in love with a young American girl named Jane (Margot Robbie).

That familiar Tarzan lore is seen in flashbacks as threats emerge that take the married couple back to Africa — Jane is excited to get home, John not so much. With American diplomat George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) in tow, they’re forced to deal with Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), an envoy of the bankrupt Belgian king with an eye for diamonds, and Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou), a tribal chieftain who seeks revenge against Tarzan.

Yates’ plot gets lost in the bushes, and Tarzan brings up in- triguing themes yet fumbles most of them. Tarzan is torn between human and animal worlds, a contrast nicely symbolized in the different ways he’s welcomed by old African friends and his gorilla brethren. Slavery problems in the Congo, Jane’s backstory as a child and Tarzan’s code of honor are all hinted at but tossed aside for a litany of slow-motion fights between Tarzan and gorillas and Tarzan and restless natives.

The lions, elephants and especially gorillas appear phenomenal up close. But when the camera pulls back for the bigger action scenes, the special effects fall apart as herds of water buffalo and other four-legged buddies come to Tarzan’s rescue.

Anything physical involving Skarsgård looks great, from his fluid movements through the trees (with some CGI help) to his ridiculous­ly cut abs. But as a character, he veers toward the stoic and doesn’t seem loose enough for a guy who’s one with nature — gone is the easy charm Skarsgård exuded on True Blood that would have made a more dynamic hero. The actor does enjoy a natural chemistry with Robbie when they’re onscreen together, though she spends much of her time playing damsel-in-distress to Waltz’s dud of a bad guy. Jackson, however, keeps Tar

zan watchable, adding both comic relief and a moral conscience. Of everyone, he’s having the most fun running around in the forest, his character getting winded amid all the derring-do and being wowed by Tarzan’s friendship with his furry pals.

Jackson is the true king of this jungle, though maybe not the one Yates and Co. had in mind.

 ?? JONATHAN OLLEY ?? John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgård) returns to the wild in The Legend of Tarzan.
JONATHAN OLLEY John Clayton (Alexander Skarsgård) returns to the wild in The Legend of Tarzan.

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