A promising concept lies at the heart of this latest version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ lord of the jungle: It begins with Tarzan is already a legend. Eight years after returning to England, John Clayton, Earl of Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgård) is invited back to the Congo, part of a plot by the bankrupt king of Portugal and his henchman, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), to exploit the area’s diamond wealth; isolated flashbacks fill in the story of the shipwrecked, orphaned boy raised by gorillas. Director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) does a solid enough job with the obligatory action moments full of CGI animals, and pokes around at some interesting subtext about colonialism and conquest, partly through an American envoy (Samuel L. Jackson) who accompanies Clayton on his African journey. But nobody involved seems to know quite what to do with the idea of Clayton navigating the mythology surrounding him—and Skarsgård, chiseled of abdomen though he may be, doesn’t dig very deeply into the character. It’s left to Margot Robbie’s lively Jane and Waltz’s cultured villainy to give some personality to something that otherwise becomes just another summer franchise wannabe.
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