Despite cliche screenplay, Alicia Vikander kicks ass as Lara Croft and turns "Tomb Raider" into a very good action film
Video games make horrible movies. That’s a rule of thumb. And not because the stories are dumb, vice versa, it is very difficult to contain characters appearing in the 20+ hour long game into 2 hour (if you are lucky) film. On top of that you have to maintain the lore, stay true to original creations and at the same time deliver something watchable for a complete outsider. “Tomb Raider” series, spanning 18+ video games, is no stranger to big screen adaptation. Angelina Jolie played Lara Croft, if you remember, to a pretty mediocre results. This time the film (if you must know, video games series as well) are getting a total reboot.
It has been seven years since Lara’s father, billionaire and researcher Richard Croft has disappeared while on trip in Japan. Lara doesn’t want to believe he is dead. In that she refuses to accept her inheritance, as that will make her officially admit he has passed. Instead she is broke, lives in some rundown apartment and barely makes a living working as bike courier. Eventually she is persuaded by her father’s business partner Ana to accept the inheritance, as otherwise it all would be sold at an auction. While meeting with her father’s lawyer (and before she can put her signature on the paper), he passes Lara some weird device “to be given to Lara upon Richard’s death”.
Devise turns out to be a message box and inside she finds a key that leads her to Richard’s secret room. She finds out that Richard was in reality searching for some supernatural artifacts all his life. His mission to Japan was to find a secret tomb of Himiko, so-called “Queen of Death”. In his last message to his daughter, Richard begs her to destroy all his research on tHimiko as “bad guys” are looking for it. Lara instead decides to use his journal to find what happened to Richard. And she sets for Honk Kong.
To better understand the issues this movie has you have to know the story of whole “Tomb Raider” series. Original game was critically acclaimed and influential to the third-person shooter genre. Story was rich, game design was groundbreaking and performance was outstanding. On top of that, to have a badass and gorgeous female character in sleeveless top, really short shorts and knee high boots run around doing rolls, jumps, etc. was an ultimate dream of teenage boys of 90’s. This supplemented with Indiana Jones style adventures made the game so popular among all kind of fans.
So it was no surprise that when Angelina Jolie appeared in “Lara Croft: The Tomb Raider” and it’s sequel, the main point was to emphasize the sex symbol aspect of the character. Thus we have 2 films that were more concentrated on Jolie’s breasts than anything else. “Tomb Raider” takes another approach. Based on the game series reboot in 2013, this version turns to the story and the action, instead of the physical appearance of the character.
In that it tries to replicate Indiana Jones films. From one side it is good – Indiana Jones series is the best adventure films ever. So it is good trying to accomplish what they have. And to be honest, film does get this job done. On the other side, while replicating Indiana Jones it gets really annoying how much this film wants to be an Indiana Jones film. The plot of the film is literally amalgamation of all three Indiana Jones films (mainly, the last one). Full with cliche elements, weird dialogues, one dimensional characters, questionable choices, “Tomb Raider” leaves very little to imagination. That and Lara’s inability to get any bad injury in the whole ordeal, just like Ethan Hawke in Mission: Impossible.
That is until the last quarter of the film. In this section, film in my opinion redeemed itself. The resolution of the film and ending was properly done, well written and (most importantly) made total sense. I do have to give credit to writers here, to be able to bring the film back to be enjoyable and not just to be another brainless ride.
I have only good things to say about the directing. Done by Roar Uthaug, film actually capitalizes on the action sequences. They are masterfully done, don’t feel much like they have been filmed in the studio with green screen and they are surprisingly enjoyable. Of course, there are shaky camera shots and fast cuts, but at least they are not annoying. Action keeps you on the edge of your seat. There is another aspect to whole action-adventure genre that Indiana Jones does best is the sequencing of fast and slow scenes. “Tomb Raider” achieves the same. Crazy chase followed by puzzle solving. Fight in the forest followed by expositional dialogue. By manipulating and carefully staging this, director is able to keep us invested in the film. It never feels boring and it never feels comically crazy.
One more thing that director gets best is the to give as close video game look as possible, without diving into weird territory. The way Lara runs from obstacles looks exactly how it does in the games. One second off and you are dead. Minor details like bow and arrow sequences and snow axe were additions that made the game fan in me say “Yay!”
Unlike Angelina Jolie, Alicia Vikander didn’t have to enhance her breath size to appease fans. She no longer wears ridiculously stupid and useless shorts. Yes, she still wears sleeveless top, but film doesn’t try to sexualize her looks. There is also absolutely no romantic subplot of the film. Which is actually against the #1 rule in Hollywood that at least one subplot should be romantic. Don’t get me wrong, Vikander looks gorgeous, probably best of all her other roles. But this gorgeousness is not because she runs around half-naked, but because she is strong, independent and relentless character. Vikander is very convincing both in dramatic parts and action sequences. Her badass mode Lara is a pleasure to watch. Walton Goggins (who I am a big fan of since his “Justified” days) plays the villain Matthias Vogel. Unfortunately, he feels very one-dimensional. There is some backstory and motivation to him, but it is so badly done. By no means, can you compare him to any of Indiana Jones villains. Which is a shame, because I am sure Goggins would have made that character very colorful.
“Tomb Raider” is a very good action film that tries to replicate Indiana Jones. Albeit having weak writing, film nevertheless keeps you on the edge of your seat. Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft is a true badass and I can’t wait to see her again in this role.