At last, a Hollywood reimagining with a point. David Yates' two-fisted pulp-studies spree The Legend of Tarzan doesn't just update Edgar Rice Burroughs' white-boy jungle-bro for our age of heightened sensitivities and bit rates. It interrogates the very idea of Tarzan, signing the old sport up for the good fight against colonialism and everything that might make you queasy about old-school jungle adventures. The first scene wittily sends up the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with treasure-hunters prowling into the verdant bush. But their leader is Christoph Waltz rather than Harrison Ford, and they're working for wicked King Leopold of Belgium, so by the time they've run afoul of the indigenous population you're jeering the invaders and probably relishing the suspense. Yates is vigorously imaginative in the moments before violence.
Eventually, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) shows up with life-and-adventure partner Jane (Margot Robbie) and their new best friend, a Samuel L. Jackson character who may as well just be named "Samuel L. Jackson" and brightens the movie up early on by saying "You are Tarzan!" and doing some no-shit jazz hands. The 2016 model is less Lord of the Jungle than Social Jungle Warrior, an extravagantly abbed grown-up journeying back to the Congo to investigate rumors of slavery in the jungle, and bringing his wife along as a blow against adventure-movie sexism. The CGI animal scenes often touch that awed Spielbergian pleasure-terror that Jurassic World fumbled. For all its high-mindedness, the movie is agreeably ripe, indulging in sweaty-pec close-ups, romantic clinches that look like recreations of Harlequin paperback covers, a villain who uses rosary beads as something like a bullwhip and a gush of PG-13 Sam Jackson-isms: "Why is it people don't ride zebras?"