A New Tomb Raider on an Old Adventure
Of all the video games that have gotten the movie adaptation treatment, Tomb Raider has arguably had the most success. The first 2001 action-adventure earned enough for a less-renowned sequel before this reboot was developed with Roar Uthaug as director. This particular film is based on a 2013 reboot of the game that acts as something of an origin story for the franchise’s heroine Lara Croft. Whether or not this is an accurate interpretation of that game, I don’t know; but as a film itself I’d hesitate to call it bad, though I’m not entirely impressed.
Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) has been living her life on impulse in London, cut off from her family’s vast fortune since the disappearance of her father Richard (Dominic West) five years earlier. After discovering his research into the tomb of Himiko, an ancient Queen of Japanese myth, she decides to embark on a quest to find him.
This movie follows just about every beat you’d expect for an action-adventure, which keeps any suspense to a minimum. The McGuffin is a standard ancient power stemming from an artefact that will unleash dread upon the world. What the film may be leaning on is that these formulaic choices and clichés are presented in a very gritty way. Lara Croft is not as skilled as may be expected. For as many times as she overpowers or outmanoeuvres one enemy, some other force gets the drop on her. And while this can be effective in making her more relatable and her adventure more dramatic, it doesn’t always work. The rough and dark tonal approach has been done to a lot of properties, to the point audiences are wiser to it now. Tomb Raider may appear more realistic and brutal, but it’s no more interesting. This intent is offset too by the goofier material inherent to the story, especially in its’ last act when it needs to address the mythical element and the actual tomb raiding. On a whole, this movie takes itself too seriously and is largely bereft of a sense of fun. This is especially noticeable when the supernatural stuff takes place, the set-pieces borrowed from an Indiana Jones movie begin to appear, and it’s all depicted with graven sincerity. Whatever you may think of that first Tomb Raider movie, it knew to have fun with its subject matter, and had a tongue-in-cheek attitude.
I’m tired of seeing Alicia Vikander in mediocre-to-bad movies. She really is a great actress, but movies like this don’t show it. She’s decently cast as Lara Croft, seems adept at the physical heft and endurance of the role, and gets some moments of humanity and empowerment, but her character at times is too vapid. Naught but the bare minimum to spur on the story of personality is seen from her; her interest in anthropology and archaeology is only a plot device. Her relationship with her father is well done though, and West is pretty good. His former partner, and this films’ Belloq is played by Walton Goggins, who’s one of the best parts of the movie. And Daniel Wu from Into the Badlands is great as Lara’s captain, even if their friendship isn’t well developed. The movie also features appearances from Kristin Scott Thomas, Sir Derek Jacobi, and a delightful Nick Frost as a pawnbroker. He also sells guns, so I’d like to think he’s just Mike from Spaced twenty years later.
The action scenes range from gritty and immersive, giving off the authentic feel of a video game, to choppy and unfocused. Like a video game many of them go on and feed into each other; such as in one almost ten-minute sequence where everything in Lara’s immediate environment seems to be trying to kill her. And it does replicate the obstacle course and rising degrees of danger present in action games. But they’re not quite as thrilling as in those games. In fairness, even contrived set-ups for challenges in video games can still be thrilling by the mere fact that they’re interactive. Translating that sensation is the elusive objective of all video game movies. Tomb Raider just hasn’t cracked it yet either.
But it still doesn’t have enough substance to it. There’s clearly effort in the decent CG, parts of Vikander’s performance, and the action scenes that are good are really good. And the studio is definitely trying to set this up as another franchise. It’s just too unremarkable to earn it. When I think of that first film, even though I haven’t seen it in years, I remember things; such as the campy tone, some of Angelina Jolie’s stunts, and Iain Glen’s awesome charisma. I can’t see myself, or anyone else, remembering much of this movie years from now.