Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

Angelina wore it better.

by Benjamín Harguindey

Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug reboots the Tomb Raider series with Alicia Vikander taking over the role from Angelina Jolie. Disclaimer: I never quite got over the new casting, never mind that both are great actresses and Vikander’s Oscar is just as fresh as Jolie’s when she took over the mantle of one of gaming’s most iconic characters.

The character of Lara Croft is, essentially, the female take on globetrotting archaeologist Indiana Jones by way of sexy, smooth man of mystery 007. Together with Samus Aran she is arguably gaming’s foremost action heroine, aptly depicted by Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and its perfunctory sequel Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003). For all their faults the movies are silly, campy fun as befits such a ridiculous character as Lara Croft, a dual-wielding billionaire bombshell addicted to adrenaline and nursing an almost psychopathic lust for overkill.

Enter 2018’s Tomb Raider, which numbs down the character and everything around her into a bland, pulpy YA origin story. Meaning that Lara has been stripped of her unique, ridiculous personality and backstory and turned into a wannabe YA heroine who toils through the daily routine while trying her hardest to look average and down on her luck (never mind her looks, youth, peak physical condition and zillion dollar inheritance just waiting for her signature). This a meek try at mea culpa to gain audience sympathy before enjoying any of her glaring privileges.

After getting bailed out one too many times from the police by tutor Ana (Kristin Scott Thomas), Lara is once more pressured into signing the death certificate of her father Richard (Dominic West), now seven years missing, so his fortune will be ripe for the picking. In the nick of time Lara comes across one of those Da Vince Code doodads left behind by her father that sets her on a scavenger hunt that eventually points towards Yamatai, an island off the coast of Japan fabled to contain the whereabouts of the mythical witch queen Himiko and, perhaps, those of Lord Croft.

 

It takes Lara long enough to get to Yamatai, but once she’s there things do pick up a fair bit with a nice, gorgeous looking set-piece involving downed aircraft hanging over a precipice (the requisite series of booby traps feels less flashy or exciting though). At its best, the movie begins to resemble the unhinged exhilaration of tour de force Kong: Skull Island (2017). At its worst, it feels like a knockoff of any number of action-adventure flicks.

Part of the problem is of course Lara – the character is a cipher, entirely reactionary towards her environment; she’s presented as an underdog but come act two everything always goes her way and she’s consistently shown to be the better skilled, equipped and generally luckier than her rivals. What should be the first big tribulation of her life, the first glimpse of an abyss that stares backs (going by the videogame the movie is adapting, if not the other obvious inspiration, Batman Begins) ends up feeling like it’s not that big of a deal. Lara comes out easily, unscathed and relatively unchanged.

The other part of the problem is Vogel (Walton Goggins), the villain. He’s just as bland as Lara and is in no way particularly detestable or threatening. As played by a curiously subdued Goggins – if only he’d brought in a little of Django‘s Billy Crash – he’s just a hardheaded middle-management type with not much of a connection to Lara and little stock in the plot. He’s a placeholder villain: entirely functional, completely forgettable. He’s a sorry excuse for stakes, and by that same token the final due falls flat.

There’re a couple of twists (apparently worth an embargo) that provide some interesting curve balls in what we assume to be the traditional Lara Croft backstory. But every time the story might start picking up steam we’re confronted with the unavoidable fact that neither hero nor villain are engaging and the streamlined series of lucky breaks and happy coincidences don’t make much for tension.

The result is a wannabe action-adventure flick with no grit or spice to the story or characters: a middle of the road rendition that is nowhere near as dark, clever or engaging as it thinks it’s being. As it is it ranks fairly high as a movie adaptation of a videogame (which isn’t saying much), but the execution is so lackluster that it doesn’t even work as a gritty reboot.


BenjaBenjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).

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