Tomb Raider (2018) Review
FUN AND ENTERTAINING,
BUT NOT QUITE THERE
Within the world of video games, the character of Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider games has been a staple and recognizable figure within the PlayStation various consoles lifespan. While there have been many Tomb Raider video games since its initial release back in 1996, they all star fictional English archeologist Lara Croft, the games would be an action / platformer, with various fighting (hand-to-hand and guns), maneuvering (i.e. running, jump, and climbing), and puzzle solving within the context of an adventure; set similarly to an Indiana Jones-esque backdrop story. Even to this day, Tomb Raider games are still being produced with the latest installment (set during the time of this review) titled “Shadow of the Tomb Raider” to be released September 2018. Naturally, the Tomb Raider narrative and premise was ripe for Hollywood to produce a theatrical film. Thus, they made it so in 2001 with the release of the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The film, which was directed by Simon West and starred actress Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, revolving around the title character trying to obtain ancient artifacts from the enemy, the Illuminati. The film, while faced with mixed feeling from critics and fans, was praised for Jolie’s performance as Lara Croft and did make roughly $274 million at the box office against its production budget of $131 million. This prompted the studio execs to order a follow-up sequel, which materialized in 2003 with the film Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, which further continued the adventure of the character with Jolie reprising her role. While the film had mixed to negative reviews, it was deemed a mild financial success (roughly making $156 million at the box office against its $96 million production budget) with another Lara Croft Tomb Raider sequel being planned. Unfortunately, this sequel was eventually scrapped when Angelina Jolie declined to reprise her Lara Croft role, leaving this movie franchise to fade and hang in limbo for years. Now, almost fifteen years since Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life was released, the character of Lara Croft is revived once again and ready for another theatrically adventure as Warner Bros. Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), and Square-Enix (so cool that’s in the title studios listings) and director Roar Uthang present the film Tomb Raider. Does this updated reimaging rise to the challenge at creating an entertaining feature or does it fall prey to so many “based on a video game” adaptations that have come before?
Roughly seven years ago, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) said her final goodbye to her father, Richard (Dominic West), an obsessive archeologist, who went to the far corner of the world in search of the Tomb of Himiko, a Japanese Queen of who is said to have “mystical” powers and could have wreaked devastation upon the ancient world. Unfortunately, Richard was lost sometime after he left, disappearing from world without a trace and leaving Lara heartbroken. Now, despite her massive fortune that awaits her, 21-year-old Lara spends her days living recklessly while making her way as a bike courier in modern day London. Despite her father’s substantial inheritance, Lara similarly refuses the repeated request from Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), her father’s longtime business associate, to take over her family’s global enterprise, Croft Holdings. However, everything changes when Lara learns the truth about her father and what he was up to, right before he vanished. Learning about the legend of Himiko and the mysterious shadowy organization known as “Trinity” that wants to find Himiko’s tomb for its own nefarious purposes, Lara, despite a recorded warning from Richard to destroy all of his research, decides to go searching for the island of Yamatai instead, in the hope of learning what really happened to her father. Find a reluctant assistance from Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), the song of the boat captain who took Richard to Yamatai several years ago, Lara manages to make her way to the secluded island. There, she encounters Matthias Vogel (Walton Goggins), an archaeologist who works for Trinity and will stop at nothing to find Himiko’s tomb after years of searching for its exact location.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Being a fan of video games (I’m a causal gamer, not a hardcore gamer), the name of Lara Croft and Tomb Raider are commonplace for me, especially within the PlayStation brand. I did play the original game (and kind of liked it), but I really never played any other of the iterations of the game. Still, as stated above, Tomb Raider did cement itself in the video game world, spawning similar games. To be honest, I like the Uncharted games (another action / platform game with male protagonist Nathan Drake, which has been in talks of being adapted into a feature film for quite some time) over the Tomb Raider games. As for the Tomb Raider films, I do remember seeing (and liking) the original 2001 movie, liking Jolie as the sexy and lethal adventurer Lara Croft. It wasn’t perfect, but it was entertaining and a likeable rewatch from time to time. To be honest, I did see Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, but once; vaguely remembering the film and the story being told (I might have to revisit that movie again someday soon).
This leads me back to my review for Tomb Raider, which seeks to revive the character of Lara Croft back on the big screen and revigorated current moviegoers in this new cinematic tale. I remember hearing a lot of chatter online that a new Tomb Raider was in the “pipeline” and was going to be a remake / reboot, somewhat erasing Jolie’s Tomb Raider movies in the process. Then came out the news for the movie’s casting, with Vikander, West, and Goggins headlining the film. This news peaked my interest, but I wasn’t super excited to see it. After all, recent remake / reboot endeavors from Hollywood have been “hit or miss”, but have more been more misses that most. The almost brings up the point of “curse” of adapting video game into theatrical films (the track record isn’t very good). Thus, despite all that, I was curious to see how this new Tomb Raider movie would ultimately play out. Plus (as a side-note), the film’s theatrical trailer (trailer #2) got me hooked due to the epic Destiny Child’s cover of “Survivor” by 2WEI playing in the trailer (love that version). So, what did I think of it? Well, it’s was okay. Tomb Raider was definitely amusing and entertaining, but, given lack of its own substance within several areas, can’t overcome its limitations as a video game movie. It comes close to doing so, but it’s not quite there.
Tomb Raider is directed by Roar Uthang, whose previous directorial works includes films like Cold Prey, Escape, and The Wave. Approaching this movie, Uthang does make an admirable and strong representation of the character of Lara Croft, making this remake / reimaging Tomb Raider feature feel more genuine than just a video game adaptation. That’s not to say that Uthang, along with Evan Dougherty, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, and Alastair Siddons (who wrote the film’s story / screenplay), have fun with material, bringing to life a lot of the Tomb Raider video game scenes to life on the big screen. Of course, you’ll get your classic gaming levels that many will recognize, including a “water / river” level, a stealth mission, a climbing platforming challenge, and a tomb puzzler, which many fans of the game will love. Personally, I liked this and it was what I was expecting from the movie, so it really didn’t bother me (more of positive than a negative). That being said, Uthang does freshen up this material with an interesting opening act for the character of Lara Croft, with the film acting as an origin story for the title character.
One of the most positive aspects that Tomb Raider gets right is the accessibility the film’s overall story being told. For those who don’t know, movies that are usually adapted from video games have difficulty finding their footing in connecting to the average non-video gamer moviegoer. Of course, fans of the games will flock to see this movie in seeing their favorite video game characters rendered in a new cinematic medium, but the non-gamers out there will usually get lost by having a difficult time in trying to uncover a lot of the world’s building aspects as well as some of the characters. Tomb Raider, in a nutshell, doesn’t get bogged down in world building and backstory mythology like other video game adaptions, making its material (as well as the feature) accessible to a much broader viewing audience, which certainly does help the movie stand out. Essentially, the film is straightforward and easy enough to follow without getting lost or befuddled (confused) along the way, which (again) is one of the positive strengths that Uthang and the writers should be commended on.
Furthermore, Uthang and those involve in the story / screenplay somewhat “ground” the feature in a more “grittier” action adventure film than the two previous Tomb Raider films. Yes, it follows the classic “Lara Croft” adventure that many will know and love, but it never becomes cheesy and hokey and doesn’t overload the film with an abundance of over utilized CGI effect shots. Even the actually “legend” of Himiko, while based in myth, is grounded and does have a more believable turn of events than anything that two other Tomb Raiders were able to cultivate. Thus, the movie never goes into the more “fantastical” realm and remains a generally solid adventurous action movie.
Tomb Raider’s overall presentation looks nice and definitely looks like a well-crafted feature film. Aesthetically, the movie’s various locations from the streets of London, to the harbor of Hong Kong, and to the jungle surroundings on the island Yamatai (as well as the Tomb of Himiko) all look fantastic and does help make the film’s background come alive within this adventurous tale. Thus, I do have to all the art direction team as well as production designer Gary Freeman for their efforts in bring this updated Tomb Raider (visually) to life. Of course, I can’t forget the movie’s cinematographer George Richmond for creating several sleek / creative camera angles, providing several cinematic touches that stand out throughout the feature. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) is very good, crafting musical selections that makes various scenes feel epic and exhilarating, which adds to the film’s overall enjoyment.
Unfortunately, Tomb Raider does have its pitfalls that even the great video character Lara Croft can’t overcome. Perhaps the biggest problem that the movie faces is where it derives its source material (i.e a video game). Despite what I said above on how the film was entertaining, the film’s story / screenplay falters in trying to elevate Tomb Raider narrative into something more than just a “based on a video game” feature. The problem here, while admirable attempt and does succeed in a few times throughout the film, is that the movie itself feels like a video game. Yes, it’s a much better attempt than most (of which this movie should be praised for), but neither Uthang nor the film’s screenplay and story writers can’t overcome the various nuances that plague video game adaptations (i.e. a rogue hero character, a baddie villain, a secret lost treasure, etc.). If this sounds familiar, then you’ll know how this narrative path will pan out. This, of course, makes the film’s story fairly predictable, following a somewhat formulaic trajectory from onset to conclusion. Yes, video game can usually utilize this tried and true narrative of storytelling through various games (see the other Tomb Raider games or even the Uncharted games), but the limitations of allowing a feature film to explore such ideas are squished / compacted into under the two-hour runtime mark. Uthang as well as the various story / screenplay writers have the right ideas, but I kind of wanted to see more as they’re was room for at least another ten minutes of additional material as well as something more than just them “picking and choosing” various iconic video game aesthetics / scenes from the Tomb Raider games.
Additionally, the film’s middle act is a bit sluggish at various points. The film’s beginning was different and head my interest, but roughly around the halfway point, Tomb Raider slows down and doesn’t build upon the momentum it gained at the end of the first act and beginning of the second one. These moments are built upon the film’s idea of Lara and her dad (i.e. daddy issues), but it never fully materializes beyond its surface. Of course, the actors playing these two mask that (see more below), but this father / daughter written relationship isn’t really flesh out. Thus, this part of Tomb Raider is a tad boring and the emotional connection really isn’t there and could’ve been more developed. All of this cultivates into Tomb Raider lacking substance with its own narrative being told. There’s plenty to like, but the film can’t break the so-called “video game” curse. Lastly, the film’s various characters are somewhat underdeveloped, but I’ll get to that in the paragraphs below.
Naturally, the big “main attraction” (i.e. the selling point) of this updated Tomb Raider film is the new portrayal of the character of Lara Croft, who is played actress Alicia Vikander. Known for her roles in Ex Machina, The Danish Girl, and The Light Between Oceans, Vikander definitely delivers a solid portrayal of Lara, giving the character a sort of recklessness outlook persona that serves as a starting point for her to evolve into a more “adventurous” protagonist as the film’s narrative progresses forward. Additionally, Vikander (physically) looks the part of Lara Croft, being a pretty but not too much sexualized and is also capable of handling herself with weapons (guns, bow and arrow, knives, etc.) as well as being an intellect (i.e. using her brain). While there are some faults to her character, which are mostly do the film’ script, Vikander is great as Lara Croft, showcasing her physical talents as a younger version of the famous video game character. She’s definitely one of the highlights of the film. Of course, the big question that everyone has on their mind (while watching this movie) is the comparison between Vikander’s Lara to Jolie’s Lara. The short answer, they’re both are actually pretty good. Jolie did do a good job in the role for her two Tomb Raider movies as she brought a more “mature” Lara Croft to the proceedings. Personally, however, I actually prefer the younger version of Lara that Vikander brings, which I like her performance a bit better than Jolie.
Beyond Vikander, the rest of the main / supporting cast are recognizable with a several being familiar faces from various other projects. Unfortunately, much of them aren’t quite as well-rounded. These roles aren’t particular bad, but rather they could’ve been more developed. Still, the weaknesses of these character are somewhat masked by the acting talents of the actors behind them. First, there is actor Dominic West who plays Lara’s father Lord Richard Croft. Known for his roles in The Wire, 300, and Punisher: War Zone, West is a talented actor and does a good job as Richard Croft. That being said, the material given to him to work with is adequate, providing some cliché “daddy issues” for Lara to overcome with him. Still, West’s screen presence is strong enough to make his portrayal of Lara’s father (a role that actor Jon Voight played in 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) memorable within Tomb Raider. Next is actor Walton Goggins, who plays Tomb Raider’s antagonist character of Mathias Vogel, who seeks the tomb of Himiko for shadowy organization known as “Trinity”. Known for his roles in The Shield, Justified, and The Hateful Eight, Goggins gives what he can to this villainy baddie. However, the character is mostly cookie cutter, with the movie more relying Goggins’s acting talents and screen presence rather than fleshing out the character through the film’s screenplay. Still, Goggins proves effective in making the character of Vogel an opponent for Lara thwart throughout the film. Lastly, actor Daniel Wu, known for his roles in Into the Badlands, Geostorm, and Warcraft, plays the character of Lu Ren, a ship captain who helps Lara in her search for her father. Wu is good in the role as a somewhat sidekick character to Vikander. Again, the character is thinly sketched, Wu’s Lu Ren is serviceable to the larger narrative of Lara’s journey and is well-acted by Wu himself.
Rounding out the cast are a few smaller supporting roles, including actress Kristin Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour and The English Patient) as, Lara’s dad business associate Ana Miller, actor Derek Jacobi (Gladiator and Gosford Park) as legal man Mr. Yaffe, and actor Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) and actress Jaime Winstone (Love, Rosie and Made in Dagenham) as pawn shop owners Max and Pamela. These characters are generally good, with some serving his or her own part in the narrative and do have certain memorable parts (small ones) within the movie.
Her legend begins (again) as Lara Croft returns to the big-screen for another adventure in the movie Tomb Raider. Director Roar Uthang’s newest film sees the return of the famous female video game character for a more grittier origin tale than its predecessor. While the film stumbles in certain areas (most notably in story and character development), the film succeeds in creating an updated Lara Croft adventure, thanks to the film’s entertaining premise, accessible material (for both fans of the games and non-Tomb Raider gamers), and a solid performance from Vikander. To me, I kind of liked this movie. Yes, there were problems within the movie, but the film’s overall final product was on the same level as my expectations. Thus, I probably liked it a bit more than most film critics out there would. That being said, I would say that I would “recommend” this movie (for fans of Vikander, fans of action / adventure films, and fans of the Tomb Raider games, but might be a “iffy-choice” for cinephiles and some moviegoers out there. The film’s ending hints at a possible sequel; a further continuation of this new reboot to Tomb Raider and I, for one, hope it does materialize with a few tweaks here and there. In the end, Tomb Raider won’t go down as the theatrical motion picture that finally broke the infamous “video game movie curse”, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction for the genre, bringing further hope that with a bit more effort and attention to detail (narrative and character building) that a future film project endeavor could finally emerge and transcend the barriers between in translating a great video game property into a great movie.
3.7 Out of 5 (Recommended / Iffy-Choice)
Released On: March 16th, 2018
Reviewed On: March 24th, 2018
Tomb Raider is 118 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some language