“Tomb Raider” the action-packed, bone-rattling, archaeological adventure is punching hard to overcome “auto-redundancy,” where taking the control away from players and forcing them not to influence the outcome of their beloved characters can, in fact, make them obsolete.
Director Roar Uthaug and writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alistair Siddons tackle the game source material and the cinematic reboot of the first lady of gaming, Lara Croft, with earnest grittiness. Oscar-winning lead Alicia Vikander plays Lara Croft, Kristen Scott Thomas and Dominic West, play Lara’s guardian Ana Miller and missing father Lord Richard Croft respectively.
Finally, the terrific Walton Goggins plays the lead villain Vogel, giving dimension and anguish to your “run of the mill” strong-arm of a secretive big-bad. Sadly, despite shooting for the stars to wash away the campy Angelina Joile joints and to cement “Tomb Raider” as another essential adventure heroine, it simply builds a rocket for future launch dates.
Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) has been orphaned when her father (Dominic West) fails to return from an expedition. After years of struggling in a state of denial that her father is indeed dead, she relents to her guardian Ana’s (Scott Thomas) advice and begins the process of accepting her inheritance. When she’s bequeathed a clue to her father’s final mission, she enlists the help of a drunken sailor (Daniel Wu) to embark on a journey to an unmarked island off the coast of Japan where she is entangled in the search for a mystical weapon.
The 2013 game that this film derives much of its inspiration from has been described to me – by gamer and friend one Garth Franklin – as a grizzly experience. If you fail on one of Lara’s puzzles, or precarious and life-threatening “tight rope” escapes the game shows you the consequences of those failures in all of their gruesome, death-rattling glory.
Director Roar Uthaug uses the key sequences in the game as a guide which ensures that Vikander’s Lara takes an absolute battering in “Tomb Raider.” It is both refreshing and disturbing to see that Lara’s ordeal registers grazes, blood stains and even requires a dash of DIY surgery all registered on her body after a puncture from a wayward branch.
While Vikander gives it her absolute all in the physical aspects of the performance it treads the fine line that we allow of our video game characters, and for some reason any character that Dwayne the Rock Johnson plays in movies, the license to simultaneously be authentic and then be “blockbuster action movie real” in the same film.
There are moments when Lara registers her injuries with a lost step of pace, or a stumble as the adrenaline masks the pain. However, unfortunately, there’s also moments when CGI destruction, hidden with a vaseline quality at the edges of the frame in darkness or dark caverns, is hailing around Lara and she’s able to stream through the onslaught with a dip, duck and dive that would make the coach of “Dodgeball” proud.
Vikander’s performance is really at its best in the interactions with her begrudging ship’s captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), a fellow orphan whose father piloted Lord Croft (West) on his final mission. Wu’s Lou Ren is great in concept but a little on the bland side in execution.
Since the game “Pitfall”, “Tomb Raider” and “Uncharted” – to name a few – the elephant in the room has been that each of these adventurers has somewhat (LIBERALLY) stolen the very essence of the iconic Indiana Jones. The genius of George Lucas’ conception of a mystical macguffin intertwined with religious folklore has a structure (much like Bond films did for spy movies) that is so effective that it’s damned impossible to avoid.
Although “Tomb Raider” attempts a more emotionally traumatic approach with it, there’s a significant chunk of writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alistair Siddons screenplay that teeters on the edge of straight up copying the dynamic of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”
Lara discovers her father’s life’s work uncovering the resting place of a mythological relic. He ensures that Lara is the one to get her hands on it to keep it safe from villains who want to use this relic’s power for evil and Lara inadvertently hands it over to them in the process of attempting to find her father. Sound familiar? All it needed was Sean Connery’s voice shouting “Junior!”
Now the sin of “borrowing” or homage could have been masked if “Tomb Raider” wasn’t such a dour affair. Say what you will about Jolie’s “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” films, but at the very least, their camp humour made them very entertaining. Nick Frost, who plays a flirtatious pawn shop operator, breezes into “Tomb Raider” on two delightful occasions and gives you something to smile about.
“Tomb Raider” is a solid film, that is at its best when it allows Vikander to get her turn with a bombshell mash-up of John McClane and Indiana Jones and especially in the way that it approaches the mythological elements of the story. For fans of the franchise, I genuinely wonder whether playing the 2013 game (and the broader series) made this essential viewing or whether “Tomb Raider” makes them dust off the game to get a shot at playing along against this grittier Croft.
There have been countless times watching great films where I’ve wished for a companion game; especially Michael Mann films. Imagine a “Red Dead” style game that you can sling a musket over your shoulder and pick up a Tomahawk and kill French troops with Daniel Day-Lewis’ Hawkeye from “The Last of the Mohicans.” At this moment, I’d much rather see what’s next for Lara Croft while nursing a controller; but there’s definitely life in this attempt to revitalise “Tomb Raider” on the big screen.