Film Review: Tomb Raider
In a reboot of yet another film franchise we are presented with a new origin story for Lara Croft, one of the few female action heroes in both video games and cinema who offers the possibility of being a role model for young women. The result presents a question: is this reboot good enough to be the definitive version or will we be subjected to another reboot (after a sequel or two) in a few years?
British businessman and widower Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) leaves his barely teenage daughter, Lara (Alicia Vikander), behind when he heads off on a mysterious trip from which he does not return.
Fast forward seven years to 2018 and Lara, unable to come to terms with the fact that he has likely died, is working as a bicycle delivery person in east London and avoiding all connection to her wealthy origins.
After a mishap Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), Lara's (somewhat) guardian who has been running the Croft business empire in Richard's absence, convinces Lara that she has to accept the truth and sign the legal papers so she can take over custodianship of the Croft manor and inherit the Croft fortune and business empire.
Lara reluctantly agrees and, while about to sign the papers, is given a Japanese puzzle from the lawyer (Derek Jacobi) - a final gift from her father - that leads to a series of clues that indicate where Richard went, and why.
Lara stubbornly decides to follow the trail, with the help of Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), a boat captain from Hong Kong whose father aided Richard and as a result also disappeared, to figure out once and for all what happened to her father and hopefully get closure.
This is an action movie and, consequently, the action sequences and pacing are of primary importance. Happily they work really well. As a contemporary comparison, I found Black Panther
to be a complete sensory overload due to the continuous blast of rich colours and culture in the set, costume design, and production design, with the usual super-swift editing during the action sequences (or, in terms of the "single camera" action sequence, just movement that was too swift) that makes it impossible to focus on anything or process anything that you're seeing.
Tomb Raider, meanwhile, keeps up the pace but it's slower, which gives you time to think and breathe and helps you to be able to envision yourself as the characters, Lara in particular, and therefore wonder what you would do in the situations in which they find themselves.
My only dissatisfaction in this regard is that the talents of Daniel Wu, who is a very good, very elegant martial arts fighter, are wasted. (I highly recommend the TV series Into The Badlands
, in which he stars, if you like wuxia.) That's not a complaint about the character he plays - it's actually a strength, because the focus stays on Lara, as it should - but rather the fact that the director (Roar Uthaug) had this amazing resource that he didn't find a way to use effectively.
Some parts of Tomb Raider
are very good but there are aspects that are an utter letdown. Lara, notably, is an uninteresting person who is devoid of humour and Alicia Vikander brings no spark to the character. It's manageable in this movie, whose pace is set by action sequences, not character development, but had this been a TV series the character would have been insufferable.
In contrast, while Vikander is, unfortunately, bland - especially in the scenes set in London - she does a great job as a believable action hero. Lara gets smashed up a lot in this movie, especially in the first half - and I was wincing at some of it because it's quite brutal - but it's not done against a backdrop of misogyny or filmed with the male gaze. Vikander handles the physical demands of the role well, resulting in a good, contemporary portrayal and a character who is not constantly being rescued - she saves herself. I'm so conditioned to this happening that I kept expecting certain characters to appear at certain moments to save the day, yet for the most part they didn't.
Therefore, as a strong, capable, intelligent woman, this incarnation of Lara Croft is a good role model. Lara is a physically and emotionally self-sufficient Millennial but devoid of the selfie narcissism.
In fact, there is refreshingly very little technology in this movie and the film even manages to figure out a way to incorporate Lara's bow and arrow in a sequence that's a lovely nod to the video-game experience upon which this entire film franchise is based.
Unsurprisingly, then, the villain, Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), is a cardboard cutout, which is unfortunate because he is set up with a little bit of character nuance early on - the fact that he has daughters that he's been away from for years while in service to a shadowy organisation that's sent him tomb hunting - and this that could have been used to make him more rounded and make his villainy more about how he wants to get back to them, rather than what it is played as, which is that he's really just immoral and unhinged. When he's not shooting at people he spends a lot of time staring wide eyed (really wide eyed) into chasms - and there are a lot of chasms in this movie - and it's not even a metaphor, it's just bad acting.
Having said that, on the Croft side the contrasting father-daughter relationship is laid on way too thick to the point where it becomes unbearable, much like the hammering home of the "family" message in The LEGO Batman Movie
. There's no balance.
It couldn't be called Tomb Raider
if there wasn't a tomb, although the film's marketing attempts to place Lara as the new Indiana Jones are completely misplaced as she's not an archaeologist. In fact, she's not even a tomb raider - the bad guys are. Therefore you can be assured of some fun underground adventures in which the production crew's talents, in terms of set and prop design, have been allowed to shine.
It all culminates in a lovely climax - what is to be found in the tomb. There's a bit of a fight, embodied by various characters, between realism and mysticism (much like in Wonder Woman
- it's a bad man, no it's a bad god, no it's a bad man, ...) but unlike Wonder Woman
's terrible contradictory attempts to have it both ways, the Tomb Raider
writers (Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons) construct a similar conflict, and the resolution, really well.
Sadly, because their talents don't extend to the nuances of character development, this movie ends up lacking a vital element necessary to make it a great one. Nevertheless I thought the action sequences were very good and I enjoyed them enough to want to watch Tomb Raider
again for those moments. The rest, however, is a disappointment.
Tomb Raider was written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet (screenplay and story), Alastair Siddons (screenplay by), and Evan Daugherty (story), was directed by Roar Uthaug, and stars Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Derek Jacobi.
The press screening was courtesy of Empire Entertainment.
This video does not contain spoilers. (The trailer, in contrast, does contain enough content for you to construct spoilers.)
[ YouTube link