Tomb Raider (2018)
Her legend begins.
Geez! It’s hard to believe that it’s been fifteen years since The Cradle of Life (2003) crawled into multiplexes, the film a sequel to 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, both of which starred heavyweight headliner Angelina Jolie as the famed, butt-kicking videogame character. While neither was a hugely revered hit (the first flick levels above the second), it was the sheer star power of AJ that made any of these popcorn munchers memorable. But, with Jolie having stating that she’s done-and-dusted playing the character (on multiple accounts), and enough time having lapsed, the landscape seemed ripe for a fresh take on the property — especially with the surge of tough-girl titles striking box-office gold.
The most notable difference in this Tomb Raider reboot is its overall tone, this new iteration grittier and more grounded than its predecessors; plus, it’s loosely based on the critically acclaimed 2013 Square Enix videogame — the leading seller in the Tomb Raider series — moviemakers giving Crofty a bit of an update, along with an origin tale that sets up a potential franchise. But is it any good?
The 2018 movie — just like the 2013 action-adventure videogame — resets the timeline, our story opening with a 21-year-old Lara Croft (played by a rock-solid Alicia Vikander), who we meet long before her crypt-combing days as a grand adventurer. This Lara, as it turns out, is much more relatable, she’s a young woman struggling to make ends meet, and though possessing an inherently strong, never-give-up spirit, she kinda lacks focus. Living modestly in trendy East London, Lara (for the most part) works as a pushbike courier, but barely makes enough coin to pay her rent.
With her dad, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), presumed dead, having been missing for seven long years, Lara stands as the sole beneficiary of Croft Holdings, her father’s international empire. But, despite being next in line to take over the thriving business, Lara wants to forge her own path, and thus is ready to sign it all away to the company’s longtime executive Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), who’s a bit of a mother figure for Lara — at one point, we see Ana bail Lara out of prison when she gets in some hot water over a ‘fox hunt’ bike race, in which Lara volunteers to be the tail. Before dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, Lara is given a mysterious Japanese puzzle box (a gift from her absent father) by the corporation solicitor Mr. Yaffe (Derek Jacobi), which leads our heroine on a quest to find her long-lost dad, Lara refusing to believe that he’d passed away all those years ago.
Following a handful of cryptic clues, Lara winds up at Richard’s final resting place (his grave), where she discovers a video message that’ll altar the course of her life forever, our protagonist learning that her departed daddy lived a veiled life as an archeologist, and that the ‘work trip’ he never returned from wasn’t actually work-related at all. You see, Richard had traveled to the mysterious island of Yamatai, located in the Dragon’s Triangle — a deadly stretch of the Pacific Ocean to the South of Japan — in the hope of stopping a shadowy organization known as the Order of Trinity from excavating a 2,000-year-old corpse, the mummified carcass of Queen Himiko, aka the Mother of Death, who’s remains were buried deep inside an impenetrable underground tomb — Trinity’s endgame, to seek dominion over the supernatural in order to rule mankind. Now, with just enough clues at her fingertips (in the form of Richard’s notebook), Lara sets sail, determined to uncover her father’s whereabouts and unearth her true calling.
Directed by Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug — in his first American feature — Tomb Raider is, by and large, a pretty fun ride, even if its workmanlike aesthetic stops it from truly standing out in the sea of Indiana Jones-inspired rip-offs. Yes, the stunts are crackerjack, the action sleek and kinetic, and the rough and dusty forest/ catacomb visuals genuinely impressive, but much of the thrills feel borrowed — we’ve seen this stuff before, only done better. Our slender, tomb-raiding bad-ass battles her way through swarms of heavily-armed men, raids a crumbling crypt infested with deadly booby traps, and survives the turbulent sinking of the Endurance (a vessel that features in the videogame), Lara crash-landing onto the cursed island in the midst of a tempestuous sea storm. Sure, die-hard gamers/ long-time fans are bound to get a kick out of the multiple callbacks and references, but for everybody else, Tomb Raider stands as slightly above average entertainment. The only real highlight (for me anyway) is a sequence that sees the titular fortune hunter traverse the decomposing wing of a rusted, rotted-out WWII American Bomber plane, one that’s found its way to a raging waterfall’s edge — this scene lifted directly from its playable counterpart.
The humdrum nature of the narrative can also be attributed to relatively untested writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, Trespass Against Us (2016), whose unimaginative screenplay lacks the oomph, excitement and unpredictability that could’ve/ should’ve made Tomb Raider a fair dinkum event film. There’s a cheesy paternal subplot (which comes off as overly clichéd) and a weak, underdeveloped villain, along with a handful of well-worn genre tropes, the central mystery not as cool nor stirring as made out to be in the prologue, which promises some intriguing and uncanny, other-worldly delights. The edge-of-your-seat moments are few and far between, too, the story (while never outright boring) simply going through the motions, offering little in the way of suspense or originality.
But don’t fret, there’s definitely some treasure hidden amongst the rubble, and that’s in the casting of the Tomb Raider herself. I’ll admit, I was skeptical when striking Swedish actress Alicia Vikander — who’s transformed from a delicate, petite flower to a fit and toned fighter — scored the part, but, to my surprise, the former Oscar-winner, who packs a helluva punch as the grand dame of video games, turns out to be the picture’s biggest trump card. Whether she’s boxing at the local ring, solving intricate brainteasers (with mere seconds to spare) or gunning-down goons with her bow-and-arrow, Vikander injects raw and hearty emotion into each and every frame, so much so, that viewers are compelled to give a damn about her character’s journey. This woman is a powerhouse! It’s also evident that Vikander and her co-star Daniel Wu, Warcraft: The Beginning (2016), share a semblance of chemistry, Wu embodying Lu Ren, an intoxicated captain of the boat the Endurance (which is more-or-less a rusty bucket of bolts), who’s been coerced into aiding Lara on her near-impossible expedition because of their fathers’ past connection. It’s a shame, though, that the duo don’t spend enough screen time together, Lara and Lu separated for most of the action.
On the flipside, tiptop actors Dominic West, Chicago (2002), and Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight (2015), are wasted in their respective underwritten roles, West playing Lara’s loving yet headstrong father Richard, and Goggins a militant mercenary who’s suffering from a type of cabin fever due to his isolation, the unhinged hired gun claiming to have nobody to talk to while on the secluded stretch of land he’s seemingly ‘trapped on,’ even though he’s surrounded by a handful of soldiers. Go figure! Lastly, an uncredited Nick Frost, Shaun of the Dead (2004), is unapologetically OTT in his cameo as pawnshop owner Max, who winds up selling Lara her signature pistols during a mid-credit ‘teaser’ scene.
Affable intentions aside, Tomb Raider doesn’t quite break Hollywood’s videogame curse, the picture loaded with seen-it-all-before narrow escapes, tacky dialogue and generic adventure movie set pieces, but kudos to filmmakers for giving it their best shot. While not the cream of the Croft of game-to-film adaptations — that title still goes to 2016’s Warcraft — the credible efforts of everybody involved make this third foray into the crypt almost worth the trip; let’s just hope the sequel (if we do indeed get one) has a grander prize waiting at the X on the map. Either way, I’m keen to see a bobble-braided Lara don the iconic short-shorts and two thigh holsters!
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by S-Littner