It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a movie that worked so hard to make it’s hero look so bad. For those reasons and several others — don’t worry we’ll get to them soon — Tomb Raider was a bad movie. Still, this is one of the rare cases where a there’s enough positive to work with to make a much better sequel.
One of the more immediate misfires is the need to make Tomb Raider an origin film. Considering most comic book movies don’t even bother with this outdated storytelling technique, Tomb Raider starts in the hole. As one of the more popular video game series of the last two decades, the target audience probably doesn’t need the extended back story. And it’s not like we need 90 minutes of build up to explain the concept of a female Indiana Jones.
But screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons feel the need to saddle the film explaining why Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina) becomes a Tomb Raider. Eventually. Like most origin films, this means a long wait before the good stuff and some breadcrumbs teasing at her potential. There’s a high stakes street bicycle race, a rough MMA sparring session and a chase on a dock. While that’s just fine for most films, too much time passes before Lara is actually in a tomb.
For this film, Lara is still chasing after her father Richard (Dominic West), who’s been missing for seven years. Richard has been presumed dead and Croft advisor Ana (Kristin Scott Thomas) is encouraging Lara to take control of his estate. After getting a new lead, Lara sets out to learn once and for all her father’s fate.
With a boat captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) accompanying her, Lara finds the island her father identified as the source of a great power. That’s a power Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins, GI Joe Retaliation) and his employer would like to harness for some shadowy sinister reason.
Maybe the most disappointing aspect of the film is how often Robertson-Dworet and Siddons have Lara making ridiculous choices. These aren’t brave decisions, but ones no logical person would make like chucking a ladder bridge to stop a bad guy that’s also Lara’s only viable escape route. Too often Lara needs movie script magic to get out of dumb situations that made little sense in the first place.
Lara Croft is one of the few pop culture female characters that even the most pig-headed chauvinist has to give her due. But the script consistently diminishes her skills. I really hated how often this film made Lara dependent on some dude to get out of a bad situation or otherwise bail her out. No one watches a James Bond film expecting the Bond Babe to constantly help 007 out but Lara can’t be the hero in her own movie.
Director Roar Uthaug does a solid job overall. The action scenes play out without exhausting hyper editing and the pacing feels about right. Impressively, Uthaug keeps everything clean and comprehensive in the final action-heavy last act.
Vikander is great. She’s easily the biggest reason this reboot deserves more than one bad initial installment. Vikander brings a vulnerability to Lara that makes her more relatable than the average superhero. Lara doesn’t have to be the smartest person in the room and is incredibly resourceful.
Wu makes for a good sidekick/partner, but the script quickly accelerates his character’s growth in an unrealistic manner. Goggins makes for an interesting adversary as he never makes Vogel evil enough. That’s the problem with being the most charismatic performer.
The film wraps on a somewhat unconvincing note as if to connect the film universe with its video game source material. It’s clumsy and assumes there’s enough buy-in so audiences will be primed for a sequel. For Vikander’s sake, I hope one does come around provided the script discovers a buried chest of quality writing.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures