All myths have foundations in reality. Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is that archetypal twenty-something without a plan. She lives her days making due as a bike courier in East London and staying in shape at the local gym. Her life was thrown into disarray seven years ago when her father, Richard (Dominic West), disappeared during travel for work. This disarray is self-imposed; Lara actually holds the keys to her father’s empire if she wants it. But to do this is to accept the fact that he’s gone forever.
Lara refuses this, and instead finds some clues in the form of her dad’s will that indicate what he was up to. This fuels the younger Croft to go on an adventure to “Yamati,” an island that lies in isolation. On the way, she meets a new ally (Daniel Wu), a new foe (Walton Goggins), and discovers the dangerous mysteries of what her father was involved in.
The pitfalls of adapting popular video games into silver screen features is well documented. The less said about them, the better. That history hangs over Tomb Raider 2018, a reboot of the franchise Angelina Jolie starred in back in the early 2000’s. To its credit, this new version of Tomb Raider, taking some cues from the 2013 re-imagining, is better than most video game adaptations, which sadly says more about the failed attempts than the real quality of the movie at hand.
In most ways, Tomb Raider doesn’t even feel like a movie inspired by a video game, and that is kind of good. Despite the plot and specific scenes pretty much being lifted from the 2013 source material, a person who’s never played it will be able to follow along without feeling like they’re missing something critical by not playing. Remove the title and replace it with something else, and few would know the difference. This is Indiana Jones-lite, and probably the realest adaptation of an Uncharted game the world will ever see.
All of this is to say that Tomb Raider is a fine video game movie working against what came before it in the subgenre, but a very meh movie overall. That mehness really does start at the beginning and continues until the 3rd act with so much of the story told in yawn-inducing exposition, be it in flashbacks, recorded video, or basic dialogue. For every few thrilling action moments set against sometimes good (and sometimes shoddy) CGI by director Roar Uthaug, they’re often sandwiched by exposition, usually bathed in a worn-out camera color filter. To take it a step further, the nuts and bolts of the story just isn’t that compelling.
But you know what is compelling, or rather, who? Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft. To say she carries the movie is probably selling her short; Tomb Raider is sort of a snooze-fest with her, but it’s unthinkable to imagine what it would be without her. Diving headfirst into the role, Vikander is quietly charismatic, giving new life and strength to a character that was previously defined by the size of her assets. If there is another one of these coming down the pipeline—and the last five minutes certainly indicate so—this franchise is in good hands. She even shares good chemistry with sidekick Daniel Wu, his character also an individual in search of answers. On the villain side of things lies Walton Goggins. Goggins, almost always a scene-stealer and entertaining thespian be it in Vice Principals or The Hateful Eight, is mostly reduced to stereotypical big baddie here, with a plan that falls apart the more thought goes into it.
In Tomb Raider circa 2018, Lara Croft’s legend begins. Not all life beginnings are memorable, but can lead to significantly better chapters. Let’s hope that is the case.
Photo credits go to maactioncinema.com, digitalspy.com, comicbooknews.com, and imfdb.org.
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