Written By: Nick Poulimenakos
If it did not work the first time, try and try again. For the entertainment industry, second chances are a dime a dozen as films that did not succeed at one point are generally given other chances to prosper in the future, with a new audience mindset as well as the opportunity to take advantage of the advancements in filmmaking. Take the character of Lara Croft for example. In 1996, she debuted in the new video game, Tomb Raider, which presented the heroine as a hyper-sexualized action hero. Fast forward to 2013 and the video game side of the franchise is rebooted, showcasing a younger Lara Craft that places more importance on her mind and talents rather than looks. This shift in the franchise has now been carried over to its film section. The early 2000’s saw Angelina Jolie portray the overtly-sexualized version of the character and now, in the midst of an evolving diversity climate in Hollywood, a new Tomb Raider film rises with Alicia Vikander in the title role.
Directed by Roar Uthuag, the film attempts to adapt the story from the 2013 critically acclaimed video game, telling Lara Croft’s origin story. It is a faithful adaptation but at its best, Tomb Raider is a passable action film that features cool fight scenes and decent performances but also a predictable and unsurprising story that lacks character depth and fails to establish any real sense of voyage.
Tomb Raider follows a young Lara Croft, who works as a bike messenger in East London. Several years after her father, Richard Croft’s disappearance, Lara has abandoned the family fortune, struggling to make ends meet. Hoping to solve the mystery of her father, Croft decides to embark on an epic journey to his last-known destination, a fabled tomb on a mythical island near the coast of Japan. Relying on her faith and sharp mind, Lara must venture into the unknown to discover the truth about her long-lost father.
Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft deserved better. For much of the film’s runtime, it is clear that the filmmakers, and the studio for that matter, were looking to play it safe, offering the audience a generic action feature with average heroics and run-of-the-mill perils. From the perspective of a video game movie, it is much better than what has come before it, but that does not make it great. Vikander is left to carry most of the film on her shoulders and despite its flaws, she delivers a superb performance as the video game icon. In an attempt to give the film a more “gaming” feel, Vikander is placed in every single scene, allowing the audience to experience everything from our lead’s perspective and Vikander does a great job is exhibiting the emotion Croft feels over the apparent loss of her father and the challenges she faces on her journey. In spite of a few hammy moments, Vikander shines as Lara, trying her best with the script she was given.
Unfortunately, Vikander is the only actor in the film who gives a decent performance. Each character that Lara interacts with is one-dimensional and the viewer will find themselves questioning why they are even a part of the film. Walter Goggins stars as the film’s main antagonist who, unsurprisingly, has typical motives about killing everyone on earth. That’s essentially it but the film also makes it known that he has a family even though he most likely does not care about them. Dominic West plays Lara’s father Richard and, while it is a fine performance, it is simply just an hour or so of West becoming increasingly unlikeable, despite being the main motivation for the heroine. Finally, there’s Daniel Wu’s Lu Ren, Lara’s companion for her journey. Wu’s portrayal of Lu Ren is so over-the-top that it becomes incredibly difficult to take the character seriously in any circumstance; whether it is fighting alongside Lara or getting drunk on their boat.
Tomb Raider is a film that strives to be an incredibly faithful adaptation of its source material, going so far as to recreate sequences seen in the game. Similarly to other video game movies, the tasks faced by the lead do not translate well to the big screen. Like Warcraft before it, Tomb Raider’s obstacles are chaotic and silly because what made the video game so successful was the fact that it was the player who was working to solve these archeological puzzles. In film, Lara working to unravel something lacks the heart and determination felt after passing a level from the game. The film is packed with cool stunts but the visuals on screen are strikingly average. Tomb Raider tries to make use of practical effects in several sequences but its overreliance on CGI and slow-motion capturing make a lot of the action underwhelming.
Once again however, it is Vikander herself who makes up for the film’s unappealing visuals with her work in the fight set-pieces. The fighting within the film is done by Vikander as she is shown taking down nameless goons all while adjusting to her new adventurous lifestyle. The emotional and raw feel of Lara Croft fighting translates beautifully to the screen thanks to Vikander’s skills and dedication to making the battles seem as realistic as possible.
As stated, the film is rather predictable in its execution. Written for the screen by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastir Siddons, Tomb Raider is a connect-the-dots narrative that never has any real sense of urgency, despite its global implications and set-up for a sequel. The action presented is somewhat plausible but it is hard to feel any kind of emotion for characters that are so one-note sans Lara. She is a strong, female hero but this origin story lacks momentum, even if the more realistic approach to the Indiana Jones-like story was the better tactic than what Angelina Jolie did back in the 2000’s.
The world has longed for a video game film adaptation that does not disappoint. Tomb Raider is an interesting case because while it is not Warcraft or Assassin’s Creed levels of bad, it is not a great film either. Where the film does succeed is in giving the world a brand new heroine to rally behind. Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft deserves another chance at the big screen. While this film probably relied too heavily on its source material, and Assassin’s Creed not enough, a hopeful sequel should work towards striking a balance between film realism and honouring the game that came before it. Sub-par visuals and poorly written character development keep the Tomb Raider reboot from being compelling but in terms of conveying an origin story, the film definitely hits the mark. You will walk out feeling entertained and relieved that a video game lead was done right. It is just unfortunate that the film around her was done wrong.
Nick’s Rating – 5.8/10
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