Tomb Raider

Posted: March 24, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Roar Uthaug. Starring Alicia Vikander, Dominic West and Walton Goggins.

TombRaider

You won’t believe what the robot from Ex Machina looks like now!

Lara Croft (Vikander) is a young woman living hand to mouth in London. She can’t afford to pay the gym where she kickboxes, and her job as a cycle courier barely pays the bills. Of course, given she’s the heir to the vast Croft fortune it’s strange that she’s struggling, but in order to inherit the fortune she’d have to sign the papers declaring her father Richard (West) legally dead. Richard, a noted adventurer, disappeared in mysterious circumstances seven years before. Lara is reluctant but after she’s arrested when an urban cycle race goes wrong, she’s bailed out by her father’s former partner Ana (Kristin Scott Thomas) who encourages her again to sign the paperwork and let her father go.

Lara agrees, but after she does she finds evidence that her father had travelled to a mysterious island where a mythical Japanese queen, Himiko, was supposedly entombed. Himiko was known as the ‘Death Queen’ and Richard feared her powers would fall into the wrong hands. In a video he encourages Lara to destroy all his work, so no one can locate Himiko, but instead she travels to Hong Kong in hopes of discovering what happened to her father.

Enlisting the help of drunken sea captain Lu Ren (an engaging turn from Daniel Wu) whose father vanished along with Richard, Lara travels into the Devil’s Sea. She locates the lost island but fierce storms shipwreck her. On the island she finds a group of mercenaries led by the villainous Mathias Vogel (Goggins) who have been desperately searching for Himiko’s tomb. Suddenly Lara finds herself in a battle for not only her own life, but potentially for millions more should Himiko’s curse escape the island…

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Computer game adaptations are always tricky business, and whilst it wouldn’t be fair to say they all fail, on average the bad outweigh the good. Lara Croft, of course, has been on celluloid before, twice in fact, both times played by Angelina Jolie essaying the then voluptuous, somewhat more sexualised video game version. I’ve seen both but could barely remember anything about them aside from the fact that Chris Barrie was quite amusing as her butler, of and one of them starred a future James Bond!

The 2018 version of Lara Croft owes more to the more modern version of the game, with Lara as a grittier, more grounded character, but despite the hiring of a great actress, the results are as uneven as they were back when Jolie played the part.

The trouble is that computer games are made to be played, and films are meant to be watched, and if you make a film too much like a game, what you end up with is viewers feeling like they’re watching someone else playing a game (this of course reached a nadir a year ago when in Assassin’s Creed we watched Michael Fassbender watching someone else playing a video game!).

Too often with Tomb Raider it feels like we’re watching Lara tackle different levels, each with increasing levels of difficulty. So first she has to cycle through London, then escape some muggers in Hong Kong, then things get more serious as she has to escape from the wreck of a plane that’s about to drop over a waterfall…and so on and so on…

All of this is fine, and most action films will throw their protagonists into increasing amounts of danger. It’s just that it feels so contrived and obvious in this case. At times I almost felt like I could pick up a joypad and make Lara run a bit faster or jump a bit higher if I could just tap a button fast enough.

The other problem with Tomb Raider is, of course, the fact that we’ve seen this all before, and usually we’ve seen it done better. The film tries, with an Asian-centric myth at its heart, but in the end Himiko’s tomb isn’t that radically different from the Well of Souls or the last resting place of the Holy Grail.

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“Hey I’m the star so how come I get the bow and arrow and he gets the assault rifle?”

Vikander is a great actress, it’s just a shame that she’s in a film that doesn’t require her to do a great deal of acting. She has her moments, notably after the first time she kills someone, it’s a great little scene and it would have been nice to see more of the psychological impact of her actions, but sadly this isn’t that kind of film, so soon enough she’s off firing arrows into men’s chests without a second thought, and much of her acting is relegated to looking slightly miffed, as if someone in the supermarket ahead of her just nabbed the last jar of humus. Kudos for the effort she put into her training through because she really does look like she could run/jump/fight like that.

Tonal problem dogs the film throughout. The early scenes in London are especially painful, playing out like a not very subtle romcom, but even on the island the film can’t quite decide how gritty it wants to be, so it very much falls between two stools. Not harsh enough to stand out, but a little too violent to be multiplex friendly.

The cast surrounding Vikander aren’t terrible, but nobody has to make much effort. West is reliably stoic, Goggins reliably villainous, Scott Thomas is reliably Machiavellian, and Derek Jacobi is reliably, well reliably Derek Jacobi. It’s just a pity as I know they’re all capable of so much more.

The stand outs, Vikander aside, are Wu as Lara’s sidekick, who manages not to be either a bumbling idiot or a potential love interest, and Nick Frost, whose cameo might be the best bit of the film.

It’s not terrible. The set pieces on the whole are well done, it’s coherent and I was never really bored, but overall it’s just terribly average, and given a great actress and an iconic character we deserve better.

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“Aren’t you a little short for a tomb raider?”

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