PJ Campbell’s review published on Letterboxd:
The Legend of Tarzan is the kind of big budget filmmaking that doesn't happen often anymore. Pulp adventure films, unless you're a Fedora wearing archeologist, don't typically fare well at the box office, or with audiences. But it's this type of storytelling, and it's uncynical nature, that takes me back to a simpler time. A time full of adventure, romance, danger, and fun. One where it's good vs. evil, and that's really all that matters.
Out the gate, David Yates, who directed the last four films in the Harry Potter franchise, as well as its upcoming spin-off, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them, is out to shake up Tarzan's return to the big screen. Instead of an origin tale, of Tarzan meeting Jane, we're wisked away to a time farther in their lives. Where Tarzan is now John Clayton III, and his past is nothing but a distant shadow. Though the origin plays throughout, it's the dual nature of the storytelling that sweeps you away, to see the man vs. the animal, humanity vs. savagery, and morality vs. the lack of code and ethics.
The film's story, a basic one, of Tarzan returning to his home to help George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), who believes that King Leopold of Belgium, the "owner" of the Congo, is enslaving Africans to make his fortune. Yates uses the film as a screenshot of time, but also one that is, in many ways, a reflection of what's happening now. As Humanity continues fighting amongst each other over beliefs and skin color, this film shows maybe we haven't come as far as we believe, and how much work will still have to do.
yIt's great to see a film that casts itself so well, with every character being brought to life in such a strong way. Alexander Skarsgard's Tarzan is one full of humanity, as well as self doubt, and you buy him in the role. He has a strong presence, commanding the screen. Margot Robbie's Jane is a strong, feisty, and clever woman who is always fighting against being the damsel in distress, which plays against the typical role women played in many of these stories. Waltz chews up the scenes as the film's villain, which will surprise no one. Though it's a quieter performance, it's none the less fun to watch, and you can tell he's happy to be a part of it. The only character, for some, that may be a problem, is Samuel L. Jackson, as his character feels a bit like a man from now being thrown back in time. He never quite disappears into the film as the others do, but he's still so good, you can look past it.
One of the film's strengths is how it fun it can be, with such lightness to it, and it's tongue firmly planted in cheek at the right moments, while also knowing when to play things seriously. There's just something fun about going back to a simpler time of storytelling, and this film achieves the fun throwback feel I look for in my pulp storytelling. This will no doubt be a film that goes overlooked, as well as being misunderstood, for now. But I like to believe that one day, much like The Rocketeer, it'll find the audience it deserves, joining the ranks of The Shadow, The Long Ranger, John Carter, and Zorro in the pantheon of pulp films that were misunderstood, but eventually loved, despite the flaws they may have.
If you want to have a great throwback adventure at the movies, The Legend of Tarzan is the film for you. It's heart is in the right place, with fantastic performances, and some incredible visuals, despite some questionable CGI at times. This is the kind of filmmaking that reminds me why I fell in love with movies, because they transport you back in time, to different worlds, and encapsulate you for two hours. It may not be the most original film, and it may not even be the most daring, but it's a fun adventure none the less, and one you'll be glad you took. Recommended.