Directed by: Roar Uthaug Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas
Film Review by Kieran Freemantle
Lara Croft is arguably the most famous female video game character and she receives her third adaptation with an origins story reboot.
Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is a rich girl playing poor, working as a bike courier in London and training in Mixed Martial Arts. After an incident with the police she returns to her father's company and family home and discovers her missing father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), had been researching Himiko, the legendary first Queen of Japan and bringer of death. She sets out to follow in her father's footsteps to find a lost island in the middle of the Devil Sea and soon discovers that a mysterious organisation called Trinity are already on the island.
Since the success of Batman Begins many franchises have gone down the gritty and realistic origins route. This happened to James Bond, Spider-man, Superman, Fantastic Four and the Power Rangers, all to various degrees of success. Tomb Raider sadly is on the lower scale.
Tomb Raider copies Batman Begins more than most reboots. Like Bruce Wayne, Lara has given up her wealth and living a 'common life', she has trained herself, has parental issues and has to come in from the cold or risk losing the family company and its assets. There were also some elements of the TV show Arrow, a person with archery skills is stuck on an island filled with mercenaries. When Lara arrives at her family company’s reception it gave me flashbacks of how Netflix's Iron Fist opened.
Tomb Raider was clearly a star vehicle for Alicia Vikander. Vikander is a talented actress, she has already won an Oscar and playing an iconic character like Lara Croft will allow her to parley her fame for future roles. Vikander was clearly committed to the role, she was introduced by sparring in an MMA fight and showing off her six-pack - she got into shape for the role.
Vikander was perfect casting, she already looked the part and her English accent was flawless. It was a role she had some fun with. During the first third of the film Vikander’s Lara showed she had spunk and a cheek about her and she does get to show off her comedic timing. Yet during the second act her performance devolves into grunting, groaning and screaming in pain as she survives a set-piece taken from the 2013 game. It made me think of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw's reviews of the rebooted games and his criticisms of Lara’s characterisation.
The new film has been compared to Raiders of the Lost Ark but it really shares more with Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade. Like Temple of Doom the hero is confronted by a group of evil men who enslave people to mine and excavate - whilst Lara is forced to work Trinity Agents when they go into the legendary tomb like Indiana Jones being forced to work with the Nazis in The Last Crusade. Like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade, Lara has daddy issues. Tomb Raider final act also borrows heavily from the first two films where Lara has to beat a shadowy organisation to the legendary artefact. It shows that there are some limitations of the Tomb Raider setting.
The way the film twists the legends and plays the archaeological mystery to be more realistic is really well done. But it does paint the film in a corner for any sequels because there is a limitation to how much mileage for any sequels because there are only so many stories that could be done where a woman can loot and ruin a culture’s relics. Because of the creation of a shadowy organisation with people everywhere any future Tomb Raider films would more likely turn the series into a spy-thriller like Bond or Mission Impossible films. The final five minutes was sequel-baiting involving the Trinity organisation.
Tomb Raider does have a solid cast and Dominic West and Walton Goggins were perfectly fine in their roles whilst the casting of Daniel Wu was clearly a case of pandering to Chinese audiences. The biggest surprise in the cast was Kristin Scott Thomas as Lara’s guardian – it was a small role for a serious actress who rarely appears in action films. The filmmakers were also able to rope in Derek Jacobi in an even smaller role.
Tomb Raider was Norwegian director Roar Uthaug’s first Hollywood and this seems to be a warning sign because his Norwegian films have unimpressive IMDB ratings. Yet he is somehow given a big tentpole film. Uthaug does a workmanlike job - the action sequences are solid and felt like they would fit in a video game such as a chase at Hong Kong harbour: when the ship crashes and Lara escapes down the river. A sequence where Lara stumbles onto a plane hanging over a waterfall looked like it should have been a quick-time event in a video game. If the aim was simply to sell the games then it succeeds because I want to play them. However, other action scenes were shot in the dark making it hard to tell what’s happening.
Film adaptation adaptations are a nut that Hollywood has still not been able to crack since they rank from terrible to decent. Tomb Raider is a better adaptation than most but that is mainly because Vikander was able to elevate the material. Without her the film would be completely forgettable.