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Review: ‘Legend of Tarzan’ goes the serious route

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“The Legend of Tarzan” is an earnest, well-meaning take on the Lord of the Apes, the King of the Jungle. Anyone secretly hoping for a campy tale of a man in a loincloth will be disappointed.

At the same time, this “Tarzan” takes itself a little too seriously, its good intentions trumping its instincts to excite and entertain. This is “Tarzan,” after all, as much as director David Yates (who helmed four “Harry Potter” movies) tries to dress it up like an “Out of Africa”-style prestige picture.

This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Alexander Skarsgard from "The Legend of Tarzan."

Still, no one embarrasses themselves in what could be a disaster. Alexander Skarsgård (“True Blood”) stars as the T-man and certainly has the chiseled chest required to spend 90 percent of the film shirtless. But he’s sleepy and almost charisma-free, as if every time he was about to crack a smile, Yates slipped him a note that said, “be serious.”

The film picks up with Tarzan out of the jungle, telling the story of how he was raised by apes mostly in flashback. (The film wisely assumes the audience already knows the Tarzan tale.) Along with his wife, Jane (Margot Robbie, doing her best to be more than a damsel in distress), Tarzan is lured back home to stop an evil diamond plunderer (smarm expert Christoph Waltz) from enslaving and slaughtering a race of people. Samuel L. Jackson tags along as a Civil War vet on Tarzan’s side.

Tarzan can speak to elephants by looking into their eyes and can take out an entire train car full of soldiers like Steven Seagal. He’s a lover and a fighter. The movie doesn’t get to have it both ways; despite its impressive visual sweep, it’s more formal than fun. “The Legend of Tarzan” is no jungle boogie, but it’s a decent swing.

agraham@detroitnews.com

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‘The Legend of Tarzan’

GRADE: B-

Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, some sensuality and brief rude dialogue

Running time: 110 minutes