By Fergus McGillivray (Upland, CA, US)

 

To say that my expectations were low going into the Tomb Raider reboot would be generous, considering Hollywood’s recent history of video game adaptations. Not long ago, Warcraft brought us uninspired mediocrity, while Assassin’s Creed made a strong case for the worst film of 2016. As a video game movie, Tomb Raider (2018) needed only to be watchable to separate itself from the recent rabble, as well as its own pitiful predecessors. (Yes, Angelina Jolie made not one but two Tomb Raider films. Yes, you saw both.) Thankfully – and shockingly – this one isn’t half bad. Tomb Raider is lively and thrilling, constrained only by some lazy storytelling and a few bits of shoddy CGI.

Directed by The Wave’s Roar Uthaug and loosely based on the 2013 video game of the same name, Tomb Raider reintroduces Lara Croft, revitalized by the brilliant Alicia Vikander. Lara is an intelligent, independent, and street-smart young woman, burdened by the loss of her father, (Dominic West) a maverick explorer. When a clue to the mystery of her father’s disappearance leads her to a remote island near Japan, Lara finds herself caught repeatedly and literally between a rock and a hard place. Pitted against a ruthless enemy and an ancient evil, Lara must embrace her keen survival instincts and knack for leaping, swinging, fighting, and falling. Especially that last one.

Tomb Raider’s greatest strength is in its tomb raider. Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft is fierce and tenacious while still grounded and believable. The emphasis on “Oscar winner Alicia Vikander” throughout Tomb Raider’s marketing campaign seemed silly at the time, but her brilliance really is key to the film’s success, and her performance gives the film a level of credibility it could not otherwise attain. It also doesn’t hurt that Vikander bears a striking resemblance to the 2013 iteration of the character.

While Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft was a goofy, scantily-clad sex-kitten, Vikander’s Lara has grit and relatability. She is not dressed in short-shorts and the camera never stops to gawk at her body. The film also does well to mock and disregard the flirtatious and creepy advances Lara receives from men, exposing their complete irrelevance to the story. The lack of sexual objectification is a critical aspect of the 2013 game (and an update from previous installments) that Alicia Vikander’s Tomb Raider needed to nail, and it did.

As with its character development, Tomb Raider works well visually when it plays out like the video game. Many shots are clearly inspired by the “quick time events” of the 2013 game, during which the player must respond to a scenario with the right button combination to help Lara complete a leap, dodge, or grab. Several other scenes reference common game mechanics such as Lara’s signature running jump, stealth-based bow-and-arrow combat, and stylized parkour, complete with tracking shots to simulate video game character control. Tomb Raider embraces these in-game experiences and transplants them smoothly into the film, complemented by many original action set pieces. Some sequences suffer a bit from cheesy CGI, but they are few and far between, and are not nearly as jarring as they could be.

Though it is a massive improvement over most video game adaptations, Tomb Raider is far from perfect. The film stumbles with storytelling, somewhat undermining a very solid introduction to the adventure with a couple of bland and unnecessary characters that claim too much of Vikander’s valuable screen time. One is Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), the boat captain who ferries Lara to the island. Wu gives a passable but unremarkable performance and is essentially a plot device given too much attention. The other is Matthias Vogel (Walton Goggins), the militant operative against whom Lara must compete to protect the island’s ancient secret. It is unfortunate that Goggins is constantly typecast as “that half-crazy guy who is about to do something violent,” and Tomb Raider sees him returning yet again to the insipid role.

Tomb Raider is a refreshingly good addition to the very shabby video game film pantheon. Alicia Vikander is more than promising as the new Lara Croft, and proves that she can carry a blockbuster from middling to solid all on her own. Tomb Raider’s love for its source material helps it climb even further, to make a case for the best film adaptation of a video game yet. When it works, it works well, and when it doesn’t, it’s still not as bad as Assassin’s Creed.

Rating: 3/5

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