There’s flaws, but also thrills to be discovered in Lara Croft’s return to the big screen.
RATING: ★★ 1/2 (out of four stars)
Ask someone to show you a good movie based on a video game, and they’ll most likely come up empty, while others might make the case for movies like Super Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, or House of the Dead as the best video game film adaptations, albeit for their unintentional hilarity. Even a lead performance from Angelina Jolie couldn’t save Lara Croft: Tomb Raider upon its release in 2001 from an incomprehensible story and a dated, over-sexualized depiction of the character of Lara Croft. Now it’s 2018 and one of gaming’s most iconic female protagonists returns to the big screen in Tomb Raider this weekend, and while it’s uncertain that this franchise reboot will stand the test of time, it’s still a step in the right direction for the genre thanks to its character-driven story, creative implementation of elements from its source material, and a strong lead performance from Alicia Vikander.
While the Angelina Jolie films were based on the four Tomb Raider games from the era of the original Playstation console, Tomb Raider elects to follow the younger incarnation of Lara Croft from the 2013 prequel game for the Playstation 4. In this film, Lara lives a carefree life in London as a courier, while looking for adventure in any variety in her spare time, whether it be a boxing match or a bike race against her male peers. Things turn when Lara’s asked to claim her inheritance from her father, who went missing on an expedition to the ruins of an ancient mythical figure in Hong Kong years beforehand. But Lara holds out hope he is still alive, and upon receiving the key to his office, discovers his voyage was to the tomb of Himiko, an ancient Asian queen bestowing the power of killing people with a single touch. Lara uses his research to travel to Hong Kong in hopes of finding her father and discovering more secrets about the archaic legend before the suspicious organization Trinity, led by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), can weaponize the monarch’s power.
Tomb Raider succeeds where most video game adaptations have not by grounding its story in reality: every discovery that Lara makes on her way to the tomb is made in a way that successfully ramps up the mystery and suspense as it goes along without ever feeling too silly, especially when Lara is put on a rabbit trail of secret compartments leading to her father’s research, and in a later, exciting scene where Lara has to use a particular relic to escape from a room with a rapidly disappearing floor. The film also benefits from having a solid story driven by the character of Lara Croft, and bolstered by a strong lead performance from Alicia Vikander. The Academy Award winner has stepped out of her comfort zone in her first action film, and does so in good fashion as she conveys Lara’s quick wits, drive for discovery, longing for her father and strong will to survive with every facial expression and line delivery. Walton Goggins even puts in a strong, understated performance as the villainous Vogel, and the film takes an interesting direction at the end of the first act when it teases a Revenant-esque turn where Lara has to fight for survival in the wilderness by her lonesome, pitting her in a compelling conflict against nature.
Unfortunately, what hinders Tomb Raider is a script that has difficulty deciding if the film wants to commit to atmospheric action-horror, or be an action movie full of quippy banter. It’s worth noting that the script also advances its plot through conveniences for the first act, such as how a fight between Lara and a trio of street thieves finds itself on the boat of Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), a liaison for Lara’s father, and poorly develops the friendship between the two of them with weak dialogue. What doesn’t help is a sparse sense of humor, save for early scenes where Lara is among her peers, and bartering with a stickler of a pawn shop clerk (Nick Frost in a cameo role). The direction from Roar Uthaug doesn’t live up to the greatness of his full name, because the entire first act has a generic look about it that’s devoid of a distinct visual style. However, it does get going once Lara escapes from Trinity’s camp and finds herself at odds with her surroundings, upon which, the movie commits itself to an atmospheric, suspenseful turn for the adventurous.
Overall, Tomb Raider is far from perfect like the majority of video game-to-film adaptations, but this film makes up for its flaws with a lot to like about it, from Alicia Vikander’s turn as an action star, to entertaining action sequences grounded in reality and clever puzzle-based thrills true to its source material. Others will have to suspend their disbelief in order to overlook the flaws apparent in the script, but devotees of the iconic video game series will forgive the bumps in the road of Lara Croft’s return to the big screen. If you’re an enthusiast for the franchise or a fan of Alicia Vikander, there’s a lot of fun to be discovered in Tomb Raider.