Tomb Raider, 2018.
Directed by Roar Uthaug.
Starring Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Derek Jacobi, Kristin Scott Thomas, Hannah John-Kamen, and Nick Frost.
Lara Croft, the fiercely independent daughter of a missing adventurer, must push herself beyond her limits when she finds herself on the island where her father disappeared.
Alicia Vikander is the first actor to perfectly embody their video game counterpart (to be fair, the competition is, what, a passable standard set over 20 years ago by Robin Shou as Liu Kang); she is Lara Croft, and I never once saw the performer upon changing into the trademark tank-top and cargo jeans outfit. And for everyone out there grabbing pitchforks who are immaturely up in arms over irrelevant body preferences, I will have the non-gamers out there reading this review know that the Tomb Raider video games also received a makeover, one that successfully made Lara Croft more human and was written on the foundation of “the birth of a survivor”. The modern-day series of games is miles better than what came before, and likewise, this Tomb Raider reboot (directed by The Wave‘s Roar Uthaug) which is a moderately faithful adaptation of 2013’s rebirth gaming experience, is superior to the Angelina Jolie vehicles in every conceivable way.
Arguably, one could get away with saying that this new Tomb Raider is the first worthy translation from interactivity to the silver screen, but as a lifelong gamer who shares a love for that hobby just as much as cinema, it greatly pains me to say that Hollywood still needs to try harder. Let no blame be placed on Alicia Vikander, she’s terrific in the role, and not just because she has the athleticism for all of the parkour (it should also be added that she did all of her own stunts) and put in serious effort to achieve muscle (one of the new additions to Lara Croft’s hobbies is that she enjoys taking up MMA fighting in her free time), but also in part to more subtle touches such as believable grunting in pain as she pulls herself up while hanging from beams suspended from a height resulting in death, or her grimacing from slowly pulling out debris wounding and piercing her body.
These tics expand on the gaming elements in a way that adds a layer of realism, as I can safely say I never really cared or felt that Lara was undergoing a physical struggle as I hopped around like an idiot either progressing the story or searching for collectibles. However, the Mature rating (the equivalent of an R rating in movies) definitely allowed for the violent aspect of fighting nefarious rogue military groups or bloodthirsty wildlife to create a feeling of real danger (the new games are notorious for containing brutal death animations if the player messes up a perilous sequence). This basically leads me into the film’s biggest issue; outside of the smart and resourceful character depiction of Lara Croft, the proceedings are all ho-hum action drenched in ghastly CGI. There are set-pieces entirely reenacted from the rebooted 2013 video game, but the digital version might actually look more real; noticing that an environment is utilizing a green screen is far more disorienting than just playing a game that has consistent graphical specs and art style animations.
Tomb Raider certainly has Lara run a gauntlet of life-threatening situations, but instead of feeling personality development most moviegoers will probably just notice that the film seems to be checking boxes with its action-adventure scenarios to appease fans of the reboot; there is one segment each involving the pickax, the bow, a platforming portion determined to not end, a few cryptic puzzles before the final showdown, and a quick teaser of the iconic dual handguns weaponry. As an added distraction, for some reason, the script deems it necessary to throw in flashbacks of Lara practicing archery with her father Lord Richard Croft before putting the instrument to good use. On that note, there are a lot of childhood flashbacks here, but what’s truly perplexing is the creative decision to filter them through a hideously dull color palette that resembles no other visuals in the entire film aside from the blurry and ugly CGI imagery.
Anyway, speaking of Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West again playing a father to Alicia Vikander), the narrative is thrust into motion once Lara stumbles across a clue regarding his disappearance that suggests he was involved with more than “boardrooms and business dealings”; the myth he becomes enamored with is preposterous making his abandonment of his teenage daughter unjustifiable. Without spoiling anything, there is more to this father-daughter dynamic, but it essentially bombs hard. Giving Dominic West clunky and cliché dialogue meant to warn others of traps and evil magic is unintentionally hilarious. I sure as hell would not go searching for him if he was my dad, but these missteps are probably just a result of poor story execution that does not invite audiences to care whether Richard is still alive or dead. Also, exposition is fine to open up a film, but becomes incredibly irritating when that same exposition gets repeated 20 minutes later in another scene.
Unfortunately, Tomb Raider fails in the villain department as well, but this is something easier to overlook than any other gripes considering that the heart of the story is Lara Croft and her transformation from a London bike courier (she refuses to accept the inheritance left for her by her father, furthering her belief that he’s not really gone) to a bona fide badass treasure hunter/myth buster, even if it the shift is unearned and a bunch of action scenes with little flow fixated on a different tool from the games . Also, even with barely anything to do, Walton Goggins strikes up an intimidating presence as a thickly bearded, coldhearted bastard who, after seven years, is still unable to return home until he locates and covers the remains of an ancient Japanese Queen that can be used to control mankind (or some ridiculous similar and generic rhetoric).
Nonsensical plot side, Tomb Raider is an enjoyable blockbuster. It has its heart in the right place by focusing first and foremost on Lara Croft. Will it light the world on fire like Wonder Woman? No, but Tomb Raider is another step in the right direction of female empowerment finding representation in cinema, which is accentuated by Alicia Vikander not phoning in the performance one bit for an easy payday. A fresh perspective like that also makes familiar tropes and frustrations more digestible. Tomb Raider is the best video game adaptation yet, and I do realize how worthless a statement that is, but equally noteworthy is the progress being made. Dear Hollywood, greenlight a sequel that has a plot deserving of Alicia Vikander’s remarkable imitation (from both appearance and acting standpoints) as Lara Croft.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com