REVIEW: Tomb Raider (2018)

Theatrical Release Poster – Warner Bros. Pictures

The following is a review of Tomb Raider — Directed by Roar Uthaug.

After winning her Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Girl, Interrupted, Angelina Jolie went on to play smart female adventurous archaeologist Lara Croft in the first film based on the popular series of video games Tomb Raider. Neither of the two Jolie-led Tomb Raider-films were at all memorable, to me.

Thankfully, the 2018 Tomb Raider-reboot — curiously also starring a Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winner as Lara Croft — is an entertaining improvement from Norwegian director Roar Uthaug, even though it isn’t a great film adaptation of a video game.

Roar Uthaug’s Tomb Raider is based on the 2013 video game of the same name or, rather, it is based on the archaeological mythology present in said video game from the developer Crystal Dynamics. Like the video game, which I did play to some extent, the film revolves around the island of Yamatai and the legend of Queen Himiko.

However, from what I’ve gathered (and what I remembered from the game), it appears that quite a few changes have been made to the overall story, one of which is the fact that the film is focused heavily on a father-daughter relationship, and how the loss of her father gave Lara Croft an unease about his profession, his business, and the manor which is in her family’s name.

The film’s story revolves around the presumed death of Lara Croft’s father, Lord Richard Croft (played by Dominic West). When Lara was a young woman, Richard Croft had left the country for the small island of Yamatai, but he never returned.

While searching through her father’s office, Lara Croft (played by Alicia Vikander), who, in this film, isn’t in University or working as an archaeologist, finds a pre-recorded message from her father instructing her to destroy all of his files on the island of Yamatai and the legend of Queen Himiko whose tomb is said to hold supernatural powers.

Lara, however, doesn’t listen to her father. She is hellbent on figuring out exactly what happened to her long-lost father, therefore she travels to Asia, bribes a ship captain named Lu Ren (played by Daniel Wu), and sets sail for Yamatai. However, the ship capsizes due to a violent storm just outside the island.

When Lara wakes up, Mathias Vogel (played by Walton Goggins) has taken her father’s documents and taken both Lu Ren and her as his prisoners. It doesn’t take long until Vogel reveals to Lara that he killed her father once upon a time, and that he fully intends to hand over whatever is found in Himiko’s tomb to a mysterious organization known only as Trinity.

Whenever I watch these film adaptations of video games (not including the great video game movies that aren’t, in fact, directly based on a, or multiple, specific video games — such as Wreck-It Ralph), I tend to worry about expecting so little from them that I run the risk of meeting even the slightest positive sign with praise. That definitely can be a problem. When you have low expectations, then you are naturally more impressed by the film when it isn’t as bad as you were thinking it might be.

In the case of the Lara Croft film franchise, I was never impressed by the Jolie films. Neither film really worked for me, and I didn’t find them particularly memorable. The typical reaction to a mediocre video game movie, one might say. But I had no love for the two Angelina Jolie-led Tomb Raider films, so I didn’t really expect anything from this new Vikander-led reboot.

And, to be honest with you, perhaps that is exactly why I enjoyed this film as much as I did. Because I had a lot of fun with this one. It has some fun, albeit unmemorable and somewhat derivative, action scenes that are entertaining in that popcorn-munching way blockbuster action films can be. There is also a fun chase scene through the streets of London that is pretty great, which I really enjoyed in spite of its predictable conclusion.

This is, of course, clearly a video game movie. Lara makes jumps that are simply unlikely for anyone to make, and she becomes the victim of a grizzly puncture wound, which she overcomes. There are sequences of action that are depicted as they would be in video games. For example, just when you think you are safe on the ledge or a pathway, it starts to fall apart or the pathway collapses — classic video game scenarios. It felt like a video game, at times, but it was never really jarring — it doesn’t feel like they are winking at the camera, at least not until the very end.

It is one of those video game franchises that is inspired heavily by Indiana Jones, and the film will thus feel very derivative. Tomb Raider certainly doesn’t try to feel original. It is a familiar Indiana Jones clone with leaps of faith, mythologically inspired tests, and, like with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a focus on a parent-child relationship.

One of my problems with the film, however, is the fact that Tomb Raider is yet another superhero-like origin story, and the end of the film even has this scene that, if it were a Marvel movie, would’ve been put at the end of the credits. The problem with this being an origin story isn’t so much that this character didn’t need one, but the problem here, for me, is that the film takes way too long to get going.

The film is littered with bad — sometimes overly expositional — dialogue, and there are definitely plot holes here and there. But, to be honest with you, my biggest problem with the film was an unneeded last minute twist about the Trinity organization. So, clearly, with all of these issues, Tomb Raider isn’t a great movie, but it is a fun popcorn movie that doesn’t really try to be much else.

Where Tomb Raider really succeeds is in the casting and performance of an outstanding Alicia Vikander who has switched out period piece dramas like The Danish Girl and The Light Between Oceans with an action film that she is really great in. In her young career, the Swedish actress has shown that she can do pretty much anything, whether it be a science-fiction antagonist-in-disguise or the Queen consort of Denmark and Norway, and now she can add action star to that list.

Ultimately, at the time of writing, I think Tomb Raider might be the best of its kind — meaning film adaptations of video games — and I would gladly pay to watch another one of these with Vikander playing the central role. It isn’t anything special, but it is fun to watch.

6.9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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