Recent cinema history is littered with the remnants of video game movies which just didn’t work. Some are decidedly, “meh”, while others fail spectacularly. So, when news broke that Tomb Raider was due for the remake treatment, fans were skeptical. After all, some of us still remember Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. While the new film does have a number of struggles, there’s some really good stuff on the screen. So, here’s what you need to know before you check out Tomb Raider.
Tomb Raider follows the rebooted story of spunky British heiress Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander). Listless, the young woman finds herself struggling in the years following her father’s (Dominic West) mysterious disappearance. The easy answer would be to have the elder Croft declared dead in absentia, and finally assume her rightful inheritance. However, that would be too easy. Ultimately, Lara teams up with sailor Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), whose father also disappeared, in order to solve things once and for all. The movie is directed by Roar Uthaug from a script by Alastair Siddons and Geneva Robertson-Dworet.
In Alicia Vikander’s performance, we finally get the Lara Croft performance that we need. Vikander is the perfect choice to usher this character into the #MeToo movement. Her take on the character is strong, active, and above all else, real. We watch her fight (Vikander is in the shape of her life for the role), but she struggles, and sometimes she has to stay down for a beat. However, Croft always gets back up. Ultimately, Vikander’s Lara Croft is relatable and provides a great take on the character for a new generation.
It came as a tremendous surprise to this reviewer that director Uthuag keeps his camera from falling into a trap… the male gaze. This is particularly refreshing, as the Tomb Raider video game is well known for Lara Croft’s distinctive… shape. The camera resists the urge to sexualize or fetishize her. Rather, the director focuses on her physicality. Vikander went through an insane amount of training for the film, and it shows. The Oscar winning actress more than establishes herself as an awesome action heroine.
Tomb Raider begins the process of introducing an interesting cast of characters around Lara. While it is a teeny part, Nick Frost is an absolute joy. He’s fun, memorable and brings some of the biggest laugh lines in the movie. He definitely needs to return for any future Croftian adventures.
Actor Daniel Wu also serves as a stand-out in the movie. While the actor has criminally little to do, he brings definite chemistry and charisma to his relatively small part. Not only is it this reviewer’s hope that he returns to the series, but also to learn more about this talented actor’s career. There’s more to see here.
The majority of Tomb Raider’s struggles come from its screenplay. Probably most noticeable is the movie’s reliance on forced exposition in the dialogue. This begins early in Tomb Raider, as Richard Croft (West) delivers a monologue over the opening credits, explaining the narrative’s overarching mystery. This continues throughout the story, and there’s a lot of information the characters have to get across… and unfortunately, it all happens in the dialogue. Much of the early dialogue feels forced and rushed… people just don’t talk like that.
Compounding matters are some pacing issues with the script. Tomb Raider is trying to get a lot done, as well as cover a lot of narrative ground. Not only does the film need to reintroduce Lara, but also what happened to Richard, and finally the archaeology mystery at hand. While the problem is not as pronounced as in certain other films this year, the undertaking feels hefty. These struggles are particularly evident as the movie enters its third act, and there’s been little advancement in any of the stories. The final third of the film takes place deep in a tomb, and the structure is awkward in its execution and struggles to bring things to a workable close.
Finally, this is a video game film, and it is most definitely structured like one. There are long sequences of talking (cutscenes) interspersed with relatively short bursts of (heavily edited) action. This can feel a bit clunky at times, but if you’re a fan of the franchise it feels like a return to form. Audiences will have to make up their own minds on this one.
Ultimately, Tomb Raider is a video game movie. This film comes in at the front a long line of some real stinkers. Tomb Raider is far from a perfect movie and there are clear problems. However, there is some real potential here. Alicia Vikander brings an exciting presence to Lara Croft, and there is definite positives to explore. With more time and more films to develop this universe, there’s a potential for exciting cinema.
Tomb Raider is playing at theaters around the country this weekend.
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