NEW YORK — Just beneath the surface of “The Legend of Tarzan” (Warner Bros.), a Gilbert and Sullivan opera is trying to claw its way out.
That’s not to say the latest big-screen take on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Lord of the Jungle” creation is remotely clever or lyrical, only that it’s a wee bit silly and unspools just a few Victorian gentleman’s whiskers shy of an overblown parody.
A loud summertime diversion, the movie wants to provide something for everybody — at least those seeking a history lesson, a passionate romance, or a rousing adventure in which the good guys are easy to distinguish from the bad. And yet, despite also offering many stabs at humor, the topsy-turvy, tongue-in-cheek quality reminiscent of Gilbert and Sullivan is mostly inadvertent.
The whiff of satirical intent emanating from “The Legend of Tarzan” derives from how much it strains to frame the material in ways contemporary audiences will connect with and find relevant.
No doubt, the topics of slavery, animal rights, environmental degradation, greed and the military abuses of colonialism are pertinent. But director David Yates and screenwriters Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer handle them in such a clumsily overt manner that it drains both the seriousness and the fun out of the experience. All the work is done for the audience; there are no blanks left to fill or connections to draw.
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