Twenty-two years after the original Tomb Raider video game, and seventeen years after the first Angelina Jolie-led big-screen adaptation, TOMB RAIDER is a modern – yet never refreshing – resurrection of the older installments. Led by a powerful Alicia Vikander, TOMB RAIDER boasts passable surface level spectacle but fails in delivering anything near compelling.
We meet a bustling and charismatic Lara Croft, living in London and working as a courier. It’s apparent that she marches to the beat of her own drum, as she lives an independent lifestyle. Through heavy expositional voice-over and dialog in the first opening scenes, we learn that Lara’s father Richard Croft (played by a stale Dominic West) has been missing for seven years – the time since his last and seemingly most futile exhibition. On this mission, Richard abandoned his daughter and traveled to a hidden island off the coast of Japan, in search for the tomb of the ancient Queen Himiko.
Lara, struggling with the loss of her father, refuses to accept his fate and is determined to solve the mystery of his disappearance. Helped out by a convenient and almost-impossible set of breadcrumbs placed by her dad (seven years in advance?) and packaged through many tiresome montages, Lara is able to gather enough clues to begin her quest.
At her first stop in Hong Kong, after evading three smugglers looking to steal her belongings, Lara meets Lu Ren (played by Daniel Wu, one of the best additions to the cast), who is the son of her father’s closest contact. After some light convincing, Lu Ren decides to help Lara on her journey to the hidden island. Once there, they discover that the island is already occupied by a band of baddies and their team of workhorses, already looking for a way into the ancient tomb. The leader of the group, Vogel (played by Walton Goggins, who does some great villain work here despite the poor material he is given), compromises Lara’s bag of belongings, including the detailed instructions on how to access the tomb.
From here, the rest of the second and third act of the film is strung together by one action scene to another – in which we get to see Alicia Vikander do a variety of Lara Croft-y things such as running through the woods, scaling impossible cliffs, and even jumping off of a plane wing, which is ever-so-delicately balancing on the edge of a waterfall. The stunt work in TOMB RAIDER, executed both by the stunt team and Alicia Vikander, offer the strongest appeal to the film as a whole. The set pieces are well realized and the hand-to-hand choreography is impressive. Unfortunately, a good amount of this stunt work is hidden, due to a handful of critically under-lit sequences. The cinematography by George Richmond is confused and disheveled. Even with the consistent action-movie style, the camerawork is too abrasive in scenes thus hindering any engaging moments of action or character development.
Being an adaptation from a video game, the screenplay for TOMB RAIDER contains inherent storytelling issues. Written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, the script lacks nuance and subtlety due to its video game-esque plot points and storyline. Lara Croft is confronted with “life-or-death” situations too many times to count, and ultimately these situations boil down to a minimal amount of story and character growth. The action sequences feel frustratingly insignificant and unimportant to the actual narrative – doubling down on audience dissatisfaction because action sequences make up the majority of the film’s overlong runtime. The attempt to flesh out Lara’s relationship with her father is commendable (and for the purpose it needed to serve, it worked), but these scenes are written as flashbacks. Depicted through desaturated camerawork and poor acting, these flashback sequences are, in short, both boring and lazy.
With all of the other technicalities aside, it’s Alicia Vikander that comes out on top. Under the direction from Roar Uthaug, Vikander brings a surprising amount of life to Lara Croft through her performance. With her physique and mindset, Vikander’s Lara Croft doesn’t seem to be a molded action hero, but rather a woman who must find and discover the strength within herself. Motivated by her devotion to her father, this rendition of Lara Croft is a character that feels powerful, strong, and real. Uthaug and Vikander bring contemporary feminism to the forefront, which is a delight to see.
TOMB RAIDER, while best described as forgettable, still maintains a relatively fair amount of esteem – held together by Roar Uthaug’s character work, Alicia Vikander’s performance, and fun stunt direction. However, due to its spotty script, resulting in a lack of subtext and an inadequacy of relatable ideas and themes, and substandard cinematography and vision, TOMB RAIDER doesn’t quite work as a whole. All paired with patchy pacing, you may find yourself checking your watch in the theater.
Tags: Action Film, Alastair Siddons, Alicia Vikander, Daniel Wu, Derek Jacobi, Dominic West, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Hannah John-Kamen, Junkie XL, Nick Frost, Roar Uthaug, Stuart Baird, Video Games, Walton Goggins