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John Clayton, Earl of Greystoke (aka Alexander Skarsgard) wears a frown and little else in the latest iteration of the Tarzan legend.

Buff vine-swinger sizzles

Jul 1, 2016 5:50 AM

ROMANCE, adventure and the irresistible lure of the wild are all integral parts of Tarzan, the idealised version of the noble male, faithful mate and super-buff vine swinger created by Edgar Rice Burroughs over a century ago.

Through a long-running series of books, comic strips and feature films, Tarzan is instantly recognisable as someone who prefers loincloths over bespoke suits and sleeping in trees rather than four-poster beds. He also owns a trademark jungle call that reduces every cool hashtag sign you can conjure up to also-ran status.

It's not that he comes off looking too bad in The Legend of Tarzan, the latest iteration of the man-god to hit cinema screens. Instead, he's simply too bland, as represented by Alexander Skarsgard, an actor with smouldering eyes, moody countenance and supermodel looks - including the "straight and perfect figure" that Burroughs himself describes in his 1912 book Tarzan of the Apes.

The new film, directed by David Yates and written by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, is part-origins tale, part-action adventure - and all-too-predictable fantasy. It takes a well-worn story, introduces familiar characters - both animal and human - from the Tarzan series, and throws them into a power blender to create obligatory flashback scenes of a child raised by a family of gorillas. Add some scenic African landscapes, large herds of CGI-induced wildlife and a wardrobe plucked from the Ralph Lauren safari collection and - you get the picture.

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Just as Tarzan can't do without his Jane, so this tale also needs a cruel and civilised villain with a world-class smirk - the type of role where Christoph Waltz has no peer. Here, he's Leon Rom, a corrupt emissary from the court of Leopold II, the Belgian king who was responsible for the enslavement and massacre of millions in the Congo during the early-20th century.

In order to secure the right to mine the diamond-rich colony, Rom agrees to lure Tarzan - now John Clayton, Earl of Greystoke - back to Africa and deliver him to Chief Mbonga (Djimon Honsou), who holds Tarzan responsible for a perceived past transgression. This doesn't prove to be too difficult, as Clayton is like a fish out of water back at his English estate: he's much happier in his natural habitat, among his tribal buddies and catching up on old times with animal friends.

When Rom and his private militia capture the feisty Jane (Margot Robbie) and spirit her away on a river steamer, Tarzan goes, well, ape-wild, dashing through jungle, leaping off cliffs and generally defying death at every turn in order to rescue his beloved. He's accompanied on his quest by George Washington Williams (Samuel L Jackson), an early civil rights activist and campaigner against injustices suffered by the Congolese.

Their mission is no walk in the park but it's entertaining to watch - in a cheesy way of course. "Your husband's wildness disturbs me more than I can easily express," says a perplexed Rom to Jane.

Going from a child among apes to the king of the jungle is Tarzan's destiny, and his burden too. Wrestling with gorillas, being shot at and performing incredible feats of derring-do in the equatorial forest will burnish your growing legend, but it also takes a lot out of you. No wonder he has a permanent frown on his face.

Rating: C