Tomb Raider movie review: Angelina Jolie would adopt Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft in a heartbeat
Director - Roar Uthaug
Cast - Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas
Rating - 2.5/5
While it’s only fair to request — no, demand — that comic book movies get the respect they deserve, the same can hardly be said for films based on video games. While even the most generic comic book movies are beginning to push boundaries like never before, video game adaptations have for decades squandered every opportunity they’ve been given — a wealth of immensely successful source material, A-list actors and directors, tentpole budgets, and a freedom that wouldn’t have been possible without the comic book adaptations whose success they hope to emulate.
But even as the Golden Age of Comic Book Filmmaking refuses to let up, defying every sane prediction made a decade ago, video game enthusiasts have been crushed year after year by the great Hollywood machine. Remember how 2016 was supposed to be the year the fate of video game adaptations changed forever? Remember how the arrival of legit filmmakers such as Duncan Jones (Warcraft) and Justin Kurzel (Assassin’s Creed) was seen as a sign of great things to come. How it was seen as the long-awaited injection of credibility in the sub-genre that has routinely underperformed both critically and commercially? Well, that didn’t happen.
And although I liked Warcraft quite a bit (really, go check it out), even Michael Fassbender admitted that Assassin’s Creed could, and should, have been better. He’d know. He starred in it. So for salvation — of an entire subspecies of movies and of an offshoot of the entertainment industry that has always been dismissed for being too exclusive — as we usually do, we must turn to a woman. Two women in fact — Lara Croft, arguably the most beloved female video game character of all time, and Alicia Vikander, an Oscar-winning star shedding her corsets for a decidedly more comfortable (and controversial) outfit.
Tomb Raider is one of those reboots of established franchises — in this case, two: the movies and the games — that we’ve grown so wary of these days. Honestly, even if films such as this end up being good, it takes a significant effort to ignore the blatant capitalism. And casting Vikander, a star who’s made a career out of costume dramas (The Danish Girl, A Royal Affair, Tulip Fever come to mind immediately) as a very modern heroine is an indication of what this film is trying to do.
She essentially carries the movie on her enviably chiseled shoulders, injecting unexpected emotion into her first kill, and the requisite excitement into a first adventure. That’s not to say Angelina Jolie wasn’t a memorable Lara Croft; in fact, the role catapulted her into the A-list. But while her more recent career has proven that Jolie was much more suited to quiet dramatic stories than bombastic action, quite the opposite is apparently true for Vikander. Shocking.
Her physical transformation, while the most obvious takeaway, is hardly her most impressive feat. It’s the earnestness that she brings to the role that takes you off guard, considering especially the unimpressive screenplay that she’s working with. It’s the sort of script that brings the narrative to a screeching halt only to deliver unengaging exposition, and short-change supporting characters. No one needs that. Also, no one needs a perfunctory father-daughter relationship in a movie that should have ideally been a rip-roaring adventure. Especially if the relationship is handled with the insight of an alien when confronted with human emotions.
Tomb Raider is very much an origin story, introducing us to a Lara who hasn’t yet raided any tombs. Yes, a reboot and an origin story, you’re thinking. The only thing that could be less uninspiring would be watching Angelina Jolie drink one of her detox smoothies, and for a good reason. While no one really expects a Lara Croft movie to have the spirit of an Indiana Jones, to expect the levity of a National Treasure movie, or an Uncharted video game, isn’t the most farfetched notion, is it?
Unfortunately, this Tomb Raider is far too grim for its own good. It borrows heavily from the 2013 reboot of the video game, which was one of the best surprises of the year — a cutting-edge gaming experience that involved the player on several levels, pun not intended. I love that game. And the film’s reverence for the source material is apparent, and appreciated — especially after the utter disappointment that was Assassin’s Creed, a film that starred Vikander’s husband, incidentally. That movie made the unfathomable decision to limit the best aspects of the game to a too-little-too-late knee-jerk rush of adrenaline towards the end. Tomb Raider, meanwhile, always feels like a Tomb Raider game.
While that may be the best news fans could’ve hoped for — the film borrows narrative elements, visuals, and the gritty tone of the rebooted games — it’s too simplistic and too generic for the uninitiated.
Director Roar Uthaug — what a fantastic name, by the way — handles the action with an almost enraged masculinity, which is slightly off-putting, considering the importance Lara Croft has had for young girls. But then again, the brute strength of the action is by far the best thing about the film he’s made. It is perhaps this straightforwardness, this inelegance, this gruffness in the film’s approach to even the most sentimental moments that’s its biggest fault. When it should have felt like a warm hug, it feels like an awkward handshake at best.
It’s too comfortable supplying the bare-minimum to an audience it knows wants nothing more than that. And perhaps that’s fine. But that being said, it could so easily have been so much worse. Video game movies still have a long way to go, unfortunately. Tomb Raider is hardly the Wonder Woman it should have been, but there’s hope yet.
Watch the Tomb Raider trailer here