Tomb Raider Review
After a 15 year absence Tomb Raider is back on the big screen. Unlike the previous iteration the spotlight is not on elevating an actress into the role of sex symbol – fun that though it was. Instead movie director Roar Uthaug has remained faithful to the rebooted game franchise of 2013. Lara Croft – now portrayed by Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair and Jason Bourne) – is yet to become the titular character. This is Lara’s first adventure, one that will turn her into a hard-hitting adventure archeologist.
The introduction firmly sets the stage. The viewer is introduced to a 20-something Lara desperately trying to stay away from her father’s business empire. Lara spends her time kickboxing and recklessly working as a bike courier. After being arrested during an illegal street race in which Lara crashes her bike she is confronted with her past. Her father’s business partner Ana Miller tells her the business and estate will be sold off if Lara does not sign his death certificate. After being handed a puzzle Lara uncovers clues as to what her father was doing when he disappeared 9 years before. He was looking for the remains of the mythical Japanese queen Himiko and the island of Yamatai. Lara disobeys a message from her father and goes off in search of him.
The Good and the Bad
I won’t go into much further detail of the plot from here on in. I will leave that for the reader to discover at the cinema. But overall Tomb Raider is an origin story. Lara does not speak foreign languages, she is too trusting of strangers and short on money (she forgot to sign her father’s death certificate). However she does have brawn – and she is clever. After punching her way out several fights we do see the character development that will ultimately make her the Tomb Raider. On that score Roar Uthaug succeeds.
Tomb Raider continues to rely heavily on its source material – the 2013 game of the same name. A focus on survival and archery over guns increases the distinction from the movies with Angelina Jolie. Yet Tomb Raider does falter here. None of the afore-mentioned elements really stands out to give Lara more character. After suffering a stomach wound it is her father who patches her up – not herself. She is also not able to use a bow to take out an encampment in stealth. Instead, her friend Lu Ren uses an assault rifle to reduce the ranks of Trinity. Some reviewers have states they thought Lara was too much of a punching bag in this movie. They are overly dramatic, but there are moments when it is true.
Temple of Doom
Speaking of Trinity – a secret order that has somehow existed for millennia acting as antagonists is not original. The villain of the story – Vogel – acts as though he walked off the set from Lost. Overall there are too many familiar elements. One such element are the booby traps. If the tomb of Himiko was built some 2000 years before, how could the traps still work? And how could they beat successive adventures? It is a trope of this particular kind of movie that is never settled.
Tomb Raider has a scene in which the floor slowly collapses into an abyss. The Temple of Doom has a scene in which the ceiling collapses, but I can vividly recall Indiana nearly being crushed to death, a spike pushing past the brim of his hat and Willie sticking her hands through an insect invested hole. There is nothing such memorable with Tomb Raider.
More Indiana Croft
Instead, the references to Indiana Jones don’t stop there. Director Uthaug may have had too much fun with his homages. Just like Indiana Lara recites in verse the clues to the three traps of Himiko’s tomb. Just like Indiana she brings her father’s notebook straight to the villain. And just like the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull the mummified remains of Himiko disintegrate as soon as the lid is removed form her coffin. Overall it feels as if most of these weaknesses could have been resolved with one more draft of the script. The flaws do not diminish the excellent work Alicia Vikander performed as Lara Croft. Her depth of drama is encouraging and with her physique it feels like she jumped straight from the cover sleeve of the 2013 game reboot.
So Tomb Raider is not without its flaws. But I am having a hard time pointing to really bad issues – I suppose there are none. It is an accumulation of mediocre elements that makes this movie forgettable. I went into the theater with expectations, and they were matched, but not exceeded as with Jumanji 2 or Kong: Skull Island. For that the plot of Tomb Raider was too predictable. The introduction of the morose Lara could not hide she was going off in search of her father. Finding her father alive meant he had to die at the end otherwise the Tomb Raider canon would be broken. Ultimately it feels as if Tomb Raider was made by a committee – it tries to punch hard, but it cannot introduce anything new over movies such as Raider of the Lost Ark.
As I said in the introduction, this is Lara’s first adventure. I hope, despite its weaknesses, that a sequel will be developed. Rise of the Tomb Raider is so much a better story. Lara’s journey to the lost city of Kitezh and finding the Prophet of Constantinople was pure bliss. It felt the game was as close to a true successor to Indiana Jones as is possible. Who would not want to see a faithful adaptation?