New 'Tarzan' swings as relationship drama, adventure

It's a romance, a bromance, a show-mance and a go-go-go-mance.

Just when you thought we didn't need another adventure based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' king of the jungle, David Yates' breathless, atmospheric “The Legend of Tarzan” swings into theaters with a sharp, personal take on one of the most enduring characters in books and films.

And it's a movie all about relationships. No kidding.

Tarzan has so many relationships in this movie, he could start his own reality TV series, or maybe later show this newest adventure on the Lifetime Channel.

“The Legend” begins with a foreboding jungle scene that, coupled with Rupert Gregson-Williams' pulse-quickening score, conjures up an ominous mix of “The Lion King” and King Kong's Skull Island.

In a fresh approach to the stale and standard chronological origin tale, “Legend” writers Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer begin with Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) after he has married Jane and moved back to his London home to take his rightful place as John Clayton III, the fifth Earl of Greystoke, and a member of the House of Lords.

The prime minister (Jim Broadbent) urges Clayton to accept an invitation from Belgium's King Leopold to return to his old swinging grounds in the Congo.

That way, Clayton can verify all the good deeds Belgium has done in the region.

Clayton reluctantly accepts, only after an American official and former Civil War soldier named George Washington Williams (another between-the-eyes performance by the great Samuel L. Jackson) points out that Belgium could be enslaving thousands of natives and pillaging the region. They need to find out.

Jane (Margot Robbie) makes time with the king of the apes (Alexander Skarsgard) in "The Legend of Tarzan."

We indeed discover that the king's treacherous envoy, Leon Rom (yet another uber-baddie randily rendered by Christoph Waltz) has rigged events to lure Tarzan home where he can be traded to an old enemy for enough blood diamonds to bail Belgium out of its impending bankruptcy.

“Legend” becomes an ambitious tale from the director of the last four “Harry Potter” films, reuniting with his Potter visual effects supervisor, editor, and production designer and producers.

In this tale, relationships inform the circle of life.

Among them is the love between Tarzan and Jane (Margot Robbie), the feisty daughter of an American professor assigned to the Congo, where the young woman and young ape-man (thanks to digital youthening) meet in a comically awkward moment that involves personal sniffing. (Yes, Jane should be British as in the novels. But her spunk and athletic prowess here are definitely not indicative of women from the period.)

Tarzan forms another bond with Williams. Together in the Congo, they turn their quest into a buddy/road movie peppered with humor.

Tarzan also enjoys a rich history with the local jungle king (Djimon Hounsou) and with the family of Mangani gorillas that raised him from infancy.

(All animals are animated. Filmmakers didn't use a single living animal on-set, but sometimes relied on stunt guys wearing gray outfits and helmets to approximate the size of the “animals” so Skarsgard had a firm idea of where his animated co-stars would later be placed.)

Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) doesn't tolerate monkey business in the jungle during "The Legend of Tarzan."

Skarsgard makes a terrific Tarzan for the 21st century, a cultured man of intellect and reason born from a primal upbringing of sheer survival, and saved by the power of Jane's love.

And if some of the stunts and vine-swinging sequences look a little like “Spider-Man” slinging web in the jungle, that's OK.

Tarzan arrived at Hollywood and Vine long before Spidey did.

“The Legend of Tarzan”

★ ★ ★ ½

Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson

Directed by: David Yates

Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated PG-13 for language, sexual situations, violence. 109 minutes

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