Review: Tomb Raider
Imagine playing a Tomb Raider game and the game world was nothing but a flat, beige-colored landscape. No hills or caves, just depressingly static topography. You walk for miles in one direction hoping for a change in scenery or a chance to do some platforming, but alas, nothing comes to view. After a solid hour of gameplay, you finally make it to a little area that resembles an adventure. You’re finally having a little bit of fun, but you complete this incredible section in under five minutes. Why did it take so long to get to the fireworks factory and why was the great stuff too little, too late? This is basically the film Tomb Raider, yet another adaptation of the popular video game explorer Lara Croft. This version takes too long to set up, with a third act that’s fun but is quickly over before it really begins.
Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) comes from tons of money but seems to run away from it at all times. Even with a huge inheritance coming her way, Croft is more of a thrill seeker. She skips college and lives for martial arts and the occasional run in with the law, until she is pointed into the direction of her missing father. An adventurer spirit himself, he found a tomb said to contain an ancient evil and in searching for it, he never returned home. So off she goes on a journey to find her dad, but of course it won't be easy. Lara does get a little help along the way when she meets Lu Ren played by actor Daniel Wu. He’s a drunken mess of a guy but is always aware and ready for combat. Wu is a stand out in this paint-by-numbers ride, making good use of his screen time. Lara and Lu eventually make it to ‘Bad Guy Island’ where mercenaries lie waiting. They are desperately trying to open the tomb Lara’s father discovered, wanting to unearth this ancient badness for themselves like all good heavies do. The jerks even use slave labor to showcase their villainy; low. Can Lara find her pops, and can she crack the mysteries of the tomb?
It should all be so simple but the film, even with its basic structure, has no sense of urgency. A film that contradicts itself, it seems to want to move at a snail's pace even when all the derring-do is splashing across the screen. The action sequences, while serviceable, get held back with bookending exposition scenes that could have easily been streamlined with another pass. Impeding the fun, at times it felt like going down a slide then smacking into a wall. With the odd staging, it feels like they nailed all the action beats then said, “Damn, how do we connect this with a plot?” Tomb Raider is an odd beast that may make for a great matinee if you can get past the film’s weird pacing issues.
Vikander is not the problem whatsoever here. Her Lara Croft is tough as nails, a human punching bag that keeps getting up no matter what the Hell the film tosses at her. Director Roar Uthaug (great name) basically drops Alicia off the highest tree and films her smacking each branch. Alicia fights in an MMA match, street races on a bike through the city, sails into brutal stormy seas and, of course, raids tombs loaded with traps galore. Vikander powers through all of it like a true heroine and looks very believable in the action sequences throughout. Her grappling skills mixed with her bow and arrow abilities make for a grounded Lara Croft who can quite possibly kick your ass with anything within reach. Being scrappy and strong enough to keep getting up no matter the odds is an important thing to visualize on screen and Vikander was definitely on point here. l mean look, you signed up for Lara Croft and she delivers on her end of the bargain. It’s just too bad the film suffers from being unexciting at almost every turn.
I would be a bad person if I didn’t bring up beloved actor Walter Goggins, who plays the villain Mathias Vogel. Definitely not the best role he’s taken, but he makes good here with the Final Boss trope. He has been forced by a higher power to find and open the tomb and he may not go home until the task is complete. You can see his longing and frustration, his just-kill-me face he cannot hide because he knows he’s going to stay at the tomb for another night. It makes for an interesting villain because he wants Lara to crack the mystery of the tomb, so he can leave, yet he will also shoot her if given the opportunity. Neat stuff in a weird movie.
Tomb Raider is nowhere near the magic of Indiana Jones nor is it goofy, batshit crazy like the Fraser Mummy films. It is not King Solomon’s Mines bad nor is it Firewalker weird; Tomb Raider almost has no personality which makes it hard to recommend or gauge. It has potential to be good, yet it keeps stepping on your feet once the dance gets going. I guess the title for Best Video Game Film is still up for grabs, or better yet, still up for debate.