An Adventurer Rises - Tomb Raider (REVIEW)
written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)
Swinging back in to action, Lara Croft once again graces the silver screen in an all new story taking the famed adventurer back to her roots. It’s been 15 years since Angelina Jolie portrayed Lara Croft, this time Academy Award winning actress Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, The Danish Girl) takes on the role in an adventure more grounded than the last two films. Fans of the 2013 videogame reboot of Tomb Raider will recognize the design choices made in the film with Vikander portraying a Lara Croft that’s literally ripped from the pixels of the 2013 reboot.
Much like the 2013 videogame of the same name, Tomb Raider follows a young Lara Croft as she faces some insurmountable odds on the lost island of Yamatai. There the legend of the Japanese Queen Himiko leads Lara to retrace her father’s footsteps to learn his true fate. The overall costume design of Lara, the inclusion of Yamatai, and the legend of Queen Himiko are where comparisons between the 2013 game and this 2018 film start… and sadly end.
Tomb Raider never seems to find its footing, instead stumbling across tired action-movie tropes and lazily having our heroine beat the odds she’s facing. Much of Lara’s motivation is tied up in her relationship with her father, a relationship the film does a piss-poor job with making me feel for. At the film’s opening, Lara is a struggling bike courier reluctant to accept her inheritance in the wake of her father’s presumed death. While this may be an attempt to differentiate Vikander’s Lara, a rebellious but brilliant down to earth London girl with a mean right hook, from Jolie’s posh heiress with a penchant for tracking down ancient artifacts and dual wielding pistols in John Woo fashion… it feel disingenuous and serves only as a predictable plot device to lead Lara to the island.
I didn't want to reference the 2013 game too much in this review, but given the fact that I had reviewed the game back when it first came out and it still stands as one of my favorite videogames ever… I can’t help but feel like the movie let me down. 2013’s videogame Lara was grounded and down-to-earth in her portrayal, her ordeal gave the character depth she had never received in her previous iterations. Her portrayal in this film has almost none of that depth, instead resorting to “kick-ass action scenes” and almost none of the character’s introspective dialog. The only scene that I felt the film nailed was Lara’s first kill; in the 2013 game and in this movie, Lara is forced to kill a mercenary who is coming after her. This scene showed incredible humanity and is the defining scene that led Lara down her path to not just be a victim, but to be a survivor. This was also the only scene in the film where I felt they truly utilized such an amazing actress like Alicia Vikander.
In all its negatives, the one positive is actually a very big one. Alicia Vikander is fantastic in the role. The future of Lara Croft as an action hero feels brighter with Vikander in her boots. Her portrayal is extremely likable, bringing to the character an infectious charm coupled with her raw physicality. I feel that as long as they continue to have her as Lara Croft, future films will do fine. Another bright spot was Daniel Wu (Into the Badlands, The Man With the Iron Fist) as Lu Ren, the ship captain who helps lead Lara to Yamatai and inadvertently is shipwrecked with her. My one complaint was how under utilized Wu was, his character was given a few bright moments but never really pushed to his limit. Unfortunately with how pleased I was with Vikander and Wu in their roles, the weakest link was in the film’s villain Mathias Vogel.
Mathias in the film, like the Mathias in the 2013 game, act as the main antagonist. Though the two share the same name… they couldn’t be more different. Played by Walton Goggins (Maze Runner: The Death Cure, The Hateful Eight), Mathias is a paper thin villain with a boring motive. He’s Richard Croft’s rival and a member of the shadowy organization Trinity. Stuck on Yamatai for seven years, Mathias just wants to get home to see his daughters but Trinity won’t extract him until he unlocks the secret of Himiko’s tomb. I get that the audience was meant to feel for Mathias a bit, but none of his motivations felt at all convincing. While the game’s Mathias was menacing, this film adaptation felt dangerous only because of the gun he always had in his hand. To me, I feel that any hero is only as bright as the villain they face. Unfortunately Mathias was so poorly characterized that Lara is never given ample space to spread her wings and be the hero she was meant to be. While Lara did face some harrowing situations, never once did I feel like Lara may not make it. While granted we root for the hero to succeed, it’s when they succeed despite the odds stacked against them that give rise of internal cheering… not once did I get that here… in fact... I was bored more often than not.
It’s a shame that Tomb Raider once again continues the tradition of the crap videogame movie. While my outlook for the film franchise is brighter than say Assassin’s Creed, they need to really dial up the quality to make the sequel a worthy addition to the Tomb Raider name. At the very least, don’t wait 75 minutes (of an almsot 2 hour film) to throw Lara into a tomb. Tomb Raider ended up feeling like a paint-by-numbers action flick that couldn’t stay inside the lines, let’s just hope the sequel will be better.
Your treasure hunter is in another castle...