Not quite as good as it should have been, but considerably better than it could have been
Tomb Raider is an adventure film based on the 2013 reboot of the popular game franchise. It begins the story of how Lara Croft became the "tomb raider."
Unfortunately, it fails to achieve its aspirations of either reaching the high Indiana Jones benchmark it draws inspiration from or recreating the success of the game's excellent story. What it does manage, however, is to surpass the older Tomb Raider movies; by a considerable margin.
Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is the fiercely independent daughter of Lord Richard Croft; an adventurer who has been missing for 7 years. Working as a bicycle courier due to her reluctance to claim her father's fortune; with no money and facing eviction, Lara enters an illegal bike race with a substantial financial reward. During the race, Lara crashes into a police car and is arrested. Ana Miller (Kristen Scott Thomas) her father's ex-business partner pays Lara's bail but warns that if she doesn't claim her inheritance it will be sold off. Finally accepting this, Lara visits her father's office and sets off a chain of events that sends her on her first adventure.
The writing is one of the movie's biggest flaws, and it extends to the characters and plot. In regards to the plot, there is nothing original here. Worse than that though, is that it's contrived and awkward. The plot feels too rushed, and there are some peculiar divergences from the story of the game that I didn't think was necessary. Something the film does do very well, however – and should receive a huge amount of credit for – is the number of game references it manages to squeeze in (no, I don't mean that crap scene at the end with the guns.). There's a hell of a lot, and I'm sure I missed many more. So much so, I've begun playing the game again so that I'm better prepared to spot more the second time around. For a fan of the game (like myself), it's almost worth watching just for this, and I found myself nudging my partner in excitement to point them out whenever they appeared.
The other thing that makes the film worth watching is Lara herself.
Alicia Vikander is an incredible actress, and it's her that holds the film together; shining through the occasionally weak dialogue and rushed plot. Not only does she physically embody Lara – gaining 12 lbs of muscle to better represent her – she also gets her personality perfectly. To my knowledge, Alicia did her own stunts (another reason for the muscle gain) because she wanted the film to have a real physicality to it.
The way her character moves around the environment: the jumping and the running, the sliding and falling, and of course the fighting; it almost always felt real.
As a result, the film feels more real, more gritty, more painful.
Her performance also confers most of the films only genuinely emotive moments (her first killing being one). Unfortunately, many of these moments are interrupted by the hurried nature of the film before they really have a chance to take hold. Alicia manages to be believable, in spite of some questionable things going on around her.
The rest of the cast, on the whole, is a collection of fairly forgettable characters. The most disappointing being Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) and Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). It's not that they're bad, in fact, both give very adequate performances, and in some instances, these result in some very moving moments. It's just that they're both such talented actors, and their characters, so interesting that they should have been considerably better.
Daniel Wu - playing Lu Ren, again gives an admiral performance as the boat captain Lara hires to get to the island. As one of Lara's rare allies in the film, Daniel's role should have been very important. The problem is, I didn't care for him. Actually, I didn't really care about anyone, other than Lara. You can't blame the actors, there really isn't much for them to work with. Only Lara gets any real character development or backstory.
Tomb Raider, for me, is a confusing film. One that has brought disappointment, but also a great pleasure. For all of its faults, you can't take away from the fact that the film does what it sets out to do. It's an entertaining and gritty action adventure movie. Yes, it's hampered by writing issues, but it also has some brilliant actresses/actors who give very good performances.
No, it's not Indiana Jones, but it is doing the genre justice, containing everything you'd expect: from deadly traps to thousand-years old tombs.
Perhaps more importantly – and despite some questionable divergences – the film stays true to the game. There are hidden references throughout, which are a joy to spot and the story doesn't stray too far from the game's story. It's not easy to condense the story of a nine-hour long game into just under two, but they've had a good go. And it's for that reason that I can overlook the films pacing and writing issues, and would happily watch and purchase the movie upon release.