Had this movie been released a year ago, the movie reboot of the rebooted video game franchise, Tomb Raider, would have passed muster, not only as one of the rare successful video game based movie, but also an engrossing female-led film that didn’t overtly focus on the female form.
For fans of the series, and even video games in general, Tomb Raider, led by the the energetic if slightly mopey Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), borrows heavily from the rebooted video games by Square Enix, focusing on a young, pre-archaeologist relic hunter who is a little cocksure about her life, unsure of the future, but determined to meet it straight on.
An incident with the authorities leads her back to Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), who is currently running the Croft company and wants Lara to accept that her father, Richard (Dominic West), who has been missing for the past seven years, is dead. This leads to the revelation that her father disappeared years ago while trying to locate the lost tomb of Himiko, an ancient, powerful queen of Japan.
The first time we see Lara, she is openly rebellious, stubborn and quick to take on the unknown. Alas, that arrogance is not backed by a level of skill but by the time she is in Hong Kong trying to track down the captain of a ship hired by her father to travel to a mysterious island off the coast of Japan, we see a little of Lara growing up, to face her challenges and the unknown.
If anything, the early parts of the movie are shaped like the beginning levels of a character-driven video game, which has players uncover some backstory, master the basic movements of the character, before the great adventure begins. When she arrives on the island with the help of Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), the son of the boat captain hired by Richard, Lara has no choice but to chart her own adventure.
Instead of focusing on the professional skills of a master fighter and acrobat, as did the original Angelina Jolie-led Tomb Raider duology, the movie spends quite some time establishing Lara’s obvious flaws. Her diminutive size means she is no good in a straight-up brawl, while she openly makes mistakes that can cost her her life.
Peppering these moments in the movie are segments that seem as if they were lifted off the game. That moment where Lara jumps off the ship? It happened in the trailer for the 2013 game. When Lara climbs the relic of a downed plane? Bingo. Her grabbing a parachute just as the glass cockpit she is resting on gives way?
Or how about seeing Lara make that long leap across the chasm, aided only by an ice pickaxe? It’s not really fan service though, but more of director Roar Uthaug turning these moments into video game cutscenes come to life, and making quick action sequences become full-fledged action set pieces.
While not exactly a household name, Vikander delivery of an ernest Lara works. The casting of an unfamiliar face allows audiences to buy into a yet untrained Lara, who is fueled by determination and stubbornness. There are times where her dialogue feels too scripted, and she doesn’t quite sound like her video game counterpart, but as an interpretation of a younger version of an established heroine, the execution is a believable one.
And despite her being responsible for saving lives, she isn’t a Mary Sue by a long shot. She gets injured and almost dies and by the time Lara makes her first kill on an island filled with ruthless mercenaries, audiences can almost understand why killing is an option.
So why does the year in which the movie is released in matter? In an attempt to make Croft seem formidable, Uthaug seems to have forgotten that she is also human. Even as she trains and learns, she develops an almost superhuman-like quality. What else do you call someone who jumps off a ship, swims to shore, gets taken hostage, escapes, slams into a log as she plummets into a raging river, climbs her way up the wings of a crashed plane, and then climb her way through the fuselage of a plane, before jumping off and slamming into trees, fending off an attacker, and I’m only halfway through the second half of the movie.
She is not John Rambo or John Wick, and in the rush to create a formidable female character, the writers have instead done a simple role reversal that makes little to no sense. And as charming as Wu was, it felt like his role was also underwritten. Otherwise, how do you turn from a drunk who cannot even stand still, to becoming a soldier adept at handling a machine gun and mounting a rescue mission?
Ultimately, Tomb Raider is a guilty pleasure that delivers. Fans of the video games will recognize the callbacks, while those looking for an adventure flick that doesn’t rely too much on CGI can just sit back and enjoy a new name in adventure.
The finished product will leave you wanting more, which is just nice because the conclusion of the film clearly sets it up as the first chapter in a longer story.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Tomb Raider offers a great reintroduction to a popular video game character, showing that action movies don’t always need a big name to play the lead. If anything, Vikander can go back home to her husband, Michael Fassbender, and tell him that her video game movie hit the mark over his.