The Legend of Tarzan started out as a serious movie with its intriguing opening and its reference to the diamonds of Opar. You see Opar is a lost city in the original Tarzan tales and the source of much of Tarzan's wealth- it's an ancient Atlantean outpost and shows up several times in the twenty-plus Tarzan novels that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote. So when I saw Opar referenced right at the beginning I thought- finally they're making a serious Tarzan movie. Unfortunately as the movie wore on I lost some of my enthusiasm for it- this could have been a phenomenal movie and maybe the best Tarzan movie ever, but instead as a whole I found it mediocre to good.
The plot is a little weak and involves King Leopold of Belgium endeavoring to enslave the Belgian Congo in the 1890's. His man in the Congo is Leon Rom and he's played well by Christoph Waltz- he's cunning and nasty but not over the top. So they got the villain right, mostly. Rom makes a deal to deliver Tarzan to his mortal enemy in exchange for the diamonds of Opar, which he will use to further Leopold's goals in the Congo. On the one hand I had high hopes for the story in the beginning- I liked the political element, as Burroughs often played with similar storylines. So it seemed authentic. As it wore on it seemed to get lazy and felt like a million other weak Hollywood plots out there- this is a movie that is better in the beginning than the end.
Also we get flashbacks (done well) that show us the origin of Tarzan, but this is not an origin story per se. We first see Lord John Clayton (aka Tarzan) in London in his role as Earl of Greystoke, and this is also like the books. He's married to Jane and they've lost a child (miscarriage apparently) but are very much in love. And let me just say at the outset that Jane, played by Margot Robbie, is awesome in this movie. Totally badass and maybe the best part of the film.
Tarzan is invited by the Belgian government to visit Congo and he accepts after being urged to go by an American named George Washington Williams, played by Samuel L. Jackson. His character is an envoy of the US government and wants to chronicle the reported misdeeds of Leopold in the Congo. So Tarzan and Williams go and Jane accompanies them- she was raised there as Tarzan was- and of course everything takes off from there.
In many ways this seemed like a Burroughs story with the fast pace and somewhat eyebrow raising plot developments. Like I said it feels like a serious movie in the beginning but deteriorates by the end. The cast is good and Jane is no damsel as I mentioned earlier. Many of the jungle scenes and animals are clearly CGI but the film looks good. There are some hokey moments and after a terrific start I thought Tarzan a bit one dimensional as it went on- but it felt like a Burroughs story in many ways and that's the highest praise I can give it.