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Tomb Raider (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 14, 2020

Tomb Raider


Starring Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Antonio Aakeel, Hannah John-Kamen, Alexandre Willaume, Tamer Burjaq, Adrian Collins, Keenan Arrison, Andrian Mazive, Milton Schorr, Josef Altin, Billy Postlethwaite, Roger Jean Nsengiyumva, Jaime Winstone and Nick Frost.

Screenplay by Andrew Wagner & Fred Parnes.

Directed by Roar Uthaug.

Distributed by Warner Bros. 122 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Lara Croft in Tomb Raider wants to prove that a woman can do anything that a man can do. Congratulations, Lara, you have proven that a woman too can be the lead in a mindless action film which blatantly rips off Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I suppose, in some odd way, that is progress.

Okay, it is unfair to expect quality from a movie which is based on a video game. It is doubly unfair to expect it for a movie which is rebooting a forgotten film franchise based on a video game. A video game which is almost 20 years old and also basically never played by the target audience, although there was a fairly successful reboot of the game in 2013. A series of movies (well, two…) which were basically considered flops at the time, both critically and in the box office.

Let’s face it, no one really remembers anything about the first two Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movies other than a young, lithe Angelina Jolie running around in leather pseudo-S&M gear, pointing huge, gleaming pistols.

The new respected actress to be dragged down by the character is Alicia Vikander, the smart and beautiful British actor who is making the jump from art house darling (Anna Karenina, The Dutch Girl, Ex Machina) to pistol-poppin’ action avatar. In fairness, Vikander had dipped her toe in action before, making Jason Bourne and The Man from UNCLE, but this is her first action film as the lead character.

Vikander gives her all here – I mean, let’s face it, Lara has some serious physical and emotional beatdowns and they are not all done by a stunt-woman. (Vikander had this to say in a recent interview: “At first it hurts. So much so that you can’t walk or get out of bed for the first three weeks. I was, like, crippled. I had pain places I didn’t know existed.”)

The stunt work here, including the stuff done by Vikander herself, was very well done. I just wish it was at service of a more interesting character and a better storyline. Tomb Raider is just another one of those action fantasies where the hero(ine) can withstand a whole set of physical strains, tortures and attacks which would kill a normal person.

If nothing can kill her, or even particularly hurt her, then why do we bother to worry or care about her character at all? She’s not a woman, she’s a video game avatar. Even worse, because in video games the characters can still get killed, they just have additional lives.

There is nothing real or human about Lara as a character. When Croft can mow down a bunch of sub-machine-gun totin’ baddies with just a bow and arrow, yeah, this is calling for a huge suspension of disbelief.

Even when we meet her, in her pre-adventure days, she is just a series of fantasy hard-girl attributes: a high-speed bike messenger in London, who dabbles in mixed martial arts and refuses to live off the fortune of her disappeared father Richard (Dominick West), because she refuses to acknowledge he is dead. Which of course, he’s not. (Oh, come on, that’s not really a spoiler, everyone knew that he was going to show up sooner or later as soon as the storyline was shared.)

Therefore, through a convoluted series of puzzles, Lara decides to go to the Orient to where her father was last seen seven years earlier, searching for an uncharted island where the remains of a goddess of death, Himiko, are buried. Dr. Richard wants to make sure that the burial place not be found so that the curse of Himiko will not be visited upon the world.

In Hong Kong, she meets Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) the alcoholic son of the captain who took her father to the island. Lara asks junior to take her there, too. He originally is resistant to her charms, refusing to help her, but quickly he becomes almost puppyish in his devotion to her, regularly putting her survival above his own.

They are shipwrecked in a massive (supernatural?) storm, on the rocks surrounding the mysterious island. Despite her father’s from-the-grave video warning to destroy all his notes on the location of Himiko’s tomb, Lara brings his secret notebook along with her and it falls into the hands of an evil cartel which has been exploring the island for seven years, fruitlessly. (Oops.) Therefore, Lara, her lap-dog sea captain friend and her not-quite-dead-yet dad try to do their part to slow down the progress.

The main baddie, Vogel, as played by Walton Goggins of Justified, is surprisingly the most interesting and most relatable character in Tomb Raider. He’s not a typical super-evil bad guy who delights in mayhem. Instead, he is a mid-level manager stuck in a dead-end job who just wants to get it done so that he can go home already. Granted, one who doesn’t think twice of shooting a guy, but it’s not so much out of malice as it is a means to an end – to get the goddamned job finished. He’s not doing bad out of greed or power-madness, he just wants to see his family, ferchrissakes. And he doesn’t believe in any of the mythological clap-trap that everyone else is spouting on and on about.

The whole group of them end up in Himiko’s cursed temple, which was obviously designed by the same architect/trap-setter as the deadly temple in the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. In this section, particularly a room with characters jumping from spot to spot on a slowly disappearing floor, the movie’s video game roots are most apparent.

Tomb Raider ends with a very obvious set-up for at least one more film in the series. It seems to me that the Tomb Raider films have already gone on three movies too long.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: March 16, 2018.

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