Tomb Raider [2018]

Tomb Raider 1a

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu & Kristin Scott Thomas
Directed by: Roar Uthaug

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: March 2018
Running Time: 119 mins

Synopsis: Lara Croft is the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer who vanished years earlier. Hoping to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance, Croft embarks on a perilous journey to his last-known destination — a fabled tomb on a mythical island that might be somewhere off the coast of Japan. The stakes couldn’t be higher as Lara must rely on her sharp mind, blind faith and stubborn spirit to venture into the unknown.

Ever since her videogame debut in 1996, Lara Croft has been the ‘first lady’ of gaming with the Tomb Raider franchise spawning multiple sequels and two blockbuster movies in the early 2000’s starring Angelina Jolie. However, the emergence of the Uncharted series offered gamers a fresh take on the ‘tomb raiding’ experience and developers Crystal Dynamics opted to reboot the franchise from the roots up; creating a more grounded and realistic take on the property than previous instalments. As a result, this latest movie also reboots the story and takes a lot of inspiration from 2013’s Tomb Raider and its 2015 sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider, stripping away the glamour and campiness of the original films (and games) to focus on a grittier origin story for the character.

Alicia Vikander takes over the iconic role of Lara Croft and moves the character away from her sex symbol positioning almost immediately as a brutal MMA sparring sequence introduces her to the audience. Vikander’s Croft begins the film as a teenager in denial over her father’s presumed death, and the initial twenty minutes of the film are surprisingly engaging as it showcases her skills as a bike courier. Director Roar Uthaug does such a good job at establishing the character and her life in London that I was somewhat disappointed that the film didn’t stay there. Clearly shot on location in Hoxton, the bike chase sequence through the streets was genuinely thrilling and much more exciting than some of the CGI-laden action sequences that followed later; although I guess since the film is called Tomb Raider and not “Bike Courier”, it makes sense that events would call Lara away from England.

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The momentum of the film stalls slightly in the second act once Lara reaches the island of Yamatai and it isn’t until she eventually sets out on the path of explore the lost tomb in the third act that it really picks up again. Evoking memories of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade at times, I really enjoyed the various trap set-pieces within the tomb, especially the sequence where the floor begins to fall away and Lara must solve a puzzle to prevent it from killing them all. It would have been great to see more examples of this throughout the film, but with all the preoccupation on establishing an origin story for the character, we’re given scant opportunities to see her in her most recognisable form: a tomb raider.

Vikander makes for a charming Lara Croft and does a great job at establishing this more feral, physically-demanding take on the character. She feels much more rounded and emotionally raw as a character, as evidenced by the scene where she first takes someone else’s life and the father-daughter dynamic that lies at the heart of the adventure. She might not be as renowned as Angelina Jolie was, but she does a brilliant job at making the character her own. Dominic West does a great job as Richard Croft, although the plot trajectory of his character was completely predictable and lacked any real innovation. Equally, the villainous Vogel (Walton Goggins) was quite formulaic in terms of his attitude and performance. The film needed a bit more personality; even the threat of Himiko was just a familiar retread of the oft-used ‘zombie virus’ storyline.

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Some of my thoughts about the film might be influenced by the fact I’d just rewatched Raiders of the Lost Ark a few days prior, and I was struck by how superior that film is. It might be a case of nostalgia clouding my judgment, but Raiders of the Lost Ark has that unique ‘X-Factor’ and chemistry amongst his heroes and villains that Tomb Raider lacks. Another area that weakened the film was its reliance on CGI; some of the action sequences were clearly filmed on a green screen and it showed. It reminded me of how much better practical effects are, and how they give an added depth and gravitas to the action that a CGI backdrop can’t. It looked beautiful and the CGI was detailed and perhaps it is a case of the ‘uncanny valley’, but I could see some disconnect between the actress and her surroundings that just made it all look a bit fake and unconvincing. This is something that I’ve noticed a lot with modern films, especially some of the Marvel movies – too much CGI just drains the ‘high-stakes’ from the action sequences and turns them into videogame cutscenes.

Tomb Raider is a faithful adaptation of the current videogame continuity, borrowing a lot of the plot from the games themselves. As a result, the film feels somewhat uninspired in places as it follows a pre-existing template. The most exciting and original sequences were the parts set in London, which I assume aren’t in the videogames, and they were also the bits that had the most practical effects. Videogame movies weren’t designed to be inventive additions to cinema, so it should come as no surprise that Tomb Raider ends up becoming fairly ‘by the numbers’ at times. The story feels very familiar, an amalgamation of other adventure films and the games themselves, but it is also enjoyable and not all videogame adaptations can claim that! As is the current trend nowadays, the ending of the movie leaves a number of plot threads unresolved for a sequel (which thankfully is in development) so hopefully the next instalment will benefit from the lack of origin story and will experiment more with its characters and plot structure.

Fun but formulaic in places, Tomb Raider is a decent reinvention and reboot for the franchise, mirroring the good work that Crystal Dynamics have done with the games in the last decade. Vikander’s lead performance is very strong and she carries much of the weight of the film on her shoulders, however it lacks that spark of originality to set it above others in the same ‘tomb raiding’ genre.

Score – ★★★ ½

Tomb Raider is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Amazon UK, as well as available to stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

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