March 16, 2018 Tomb Raider (Movie Review)
The Hollywood reboot of the famed video game series Tomb Raider hits US theaters as of Friday, March 16, 2018 through Warner Bros. Pictures. Coming amid a wave of mainstream women empowerment, it delivers a solid action experience in the vein of classic explorer action films of years past. Directed by Norwegian Filmmaker Roar Uthaug (The Wave 2015, Escape 2012) and starring Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina 2015, Jason Bourne 2016) as series star Lara Croft, Tomb Raider is not just an improvement over the earlier films, but also an excellent example of how to build character, tension, and execute brutal action sequences.
Lara is the only child of rich and famous explorer Richard Croft, played by Dominic West (300 2007, Chicago 2002). Richard disappeared on an expedition several years before the start of the film, and Lara has distanced herself from her inheritance and lives a carefree but somewhat dangerous lifestyle. She practices MMA and participates in a perilous fox chase on bikes as the quarry, neither of which with stellar results.
Though she does not want to, she is forced to claim her father’s inheritance before his estate is sold. It is then that she discovers that Richard was searching for a mythical Japanese island called Yamatai, home of the legendary ancient Queen Himiko, who is said to possess Godlike power of life and death. Lara tracks his last known location to Hong Kong and sets off. The death of his wife is what drove Richard to seek Yamatai, and his that drives Lara to start on the path of her destiny.
Tomb Raider is heavily based on the 2013 game series reboot and stays true to the source material. Despite a few changes in lore, the important aspect of showing a character’s slow, often painful growth into a dynamic hero is what really matters. The focus and appeal of the game reboot was a more grounded and gritty approach compared to the earlier titles, and this movie is the same. There are no fancy flips, handstands, gun katas, or carefree chasm jumps here – every obstacle is a struggle, every step a new threat to her life. Lara goes through partial and full failures throughout the film, from her MMA training, to the bike race, to her many challenges on Yamatai, and she suffers enough pain and injury to keep most other people (men included) down. It is important to remember that this Lara is unproven despite her hard training. Her first adventure is above all a learning experience, the same way life is for the rest of us, if a lot more deadly.
There are a few fair criticisms, however. Though the supporting cast all perform well, the script does not leave quite enough room for them to grow as much as the audience may have liked. Daniel Wu (Warcraft 2016, Control 2013) plays Lu Ren, the ship captain who helps Lara get to Yamatai, and whose father was also lost on the same expedition as Lara’s, but is unfortunately relegated to a background character once they get to the island. That is a shame because he is charismatic and has a good story of his own. Walton Goggins (Django Unchained 2012, The Hateful Eight 2015) is the antagonist Matias Vogel, head of the Yamatai expedition of a shadowy paramilitary organization called Trinity. He is good as always, but can only get so much out of a character that was written to be rather one-dimensional. Perhaps it is an inevitable flaw of the time constraints, but both of those characters have a lot more potential than what they were given.
Vikander is excellent and the work she put into the role really shows. The stunts and fights are gritty and their danger is always palpable. Not only is she physically perfect for Lara, but she plays her exactly as she should – smart, determined, independent, and brave. She is born rich but works her butt off for absolutely everything. She uses quick thinking as much as her physical prowess, and knows how to maximize her abilities against stronger opponents. You never see her waltz into a challenge with arrogance or dismissal, but the gutsy valor of someone who knows it is a trial by fire and the audience will respect her mettle because of it.
Overall, Tomb Raider is a faithful adaptation of a superior version of a classic game character that has some flaws, but does not get too bogged down to them. The supporting characters perhaps could have been more, but the directing is great, the action thrilling, and Alicia Vikander establishes herself as one hell of an action hero, man or woman. That is why CrypticRock gives Tomb Raider 3.5 out of 5 stars.