A full-blown retelling of Tarzan's origin story would've been preferable to this mess of ideas about Lord Greystoke's later life. For many viewers, this film will serve as an introduction to the legendary "Ape Man" created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. At best, younger folks might've only seen the Disney animated film and are basing their entire understanding of the character on that alone. Director David Yates (a veteran of the Harry Potter series and director of the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) seems disinterested in Tarzan's (Alexander Skarsgård) jungle roots. We see some compelling flashbacks now and then, but Legend focuses primarily on John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke—the refined English gentleman who has renounced his Tarzan identity.
While it's a terrific film to look at, with great CG effects bringing jungle animals believably to life, the jumbled narrative grinds momentum to a crawl. The plot certainly isn't lacking in terms of complexity. Captain Léon Rom (Christoph Waltz) leads a Belgian army into the Congo Free State in order to mine diamonds. The Congolese are being enslaved by the Belgians, raising the ire of American businessman George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson). Williams convinces Clayton to join him on an expedition to the Congo. Tribal leader Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou) offers Rom a fortune in diamonds in exchange for delivery of his old rival Tarzan. Rom manages to kidnap Clayton/Tarzan's wife Jane (Margot Robbie), who proves more than capable of handling herself. How's that for a laundry list of plot points? Too bad director Yates doesn't present them in a manner that makes care about the people involved.
The 'indigenous people versus encroaching occupiers' scenario isn't without potential, but the treatment renders it dramatically inert. We're left wanting less political maneuvering and more vine-swinging. The climax finally delivers in terms of sheer action, but Yates seems bent on turning it into a modern war movie sequence, a la Rambo. Skarsgård looks impressive diving in and out of the river, battling Rom on a boat. Jackson basically shrugs off concerns about maintaining the time period (the film is set in 1890) and plays Williams like he escaped from the set of a Tarantino film. It doesn't really fit the tone established earlier in Legend, but it injects some badly needed fun into the third act.
Again, The Legend of Tarzan looks like a million bucks (or $180 million, reportedly). Warner's Blu-ray visual presentation is spot on, but even better is the Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Well, I'm guessing the Atmos is awesome, but I listened on the core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix. Fear not if you're also not Atmos-equipped, the lossless TrueHD is plenty powerful on its own (wait'll you hear the machine gun manned by George Washington Williams).
Special features: pretty straightforward, the Blu-ray offers a series of featurettes that totals just under an hour—"Tarzan Reborn," "Battles and Bare-Knuckled Brawls" (itself a series of three segments), "Tarzan and Jane's Unfailing Love," "Creating the Virtual Jungle," and "Gabon to the Big Screen."
Chalk up The Legend of Tarzan as another handsomely-produced, big-budget action epic that isn't terribly difficult to sit through, but one that many viewers aren't likely to revisit very frequently.