Tomb Raider review Alicia Vikander stillYear: 2018
Director(s): Roar Uthaug
Writer(s): Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons
Region of Origin: USA

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 118 mins

Synopsis: The fiercely independent daughter of a missing adventurer, must push herself beyond her limits when she finds herself on the island where her father disappeared. (Source)

Square Enix recently did Lara Croft right, rebooting the Tomb Raider video game franchise with a smart, modern origin story. The new chapter was a gritty adventure, taking the focus off of pixelated curves and into the mind of a hardened survivor. With an emphasis on character and unflinching thrills, Lara was reborn anew. This newer iteration is both the narrative and tonal basis for director Roar Uthaug latest film. Without a doubt, Uthaug is reverential in the best way, intent on creating a cinematic heroine for a time when audiences are thirsting for strong female leads. The results are definitely fun, if a little too safe, with a pace that never stops to look back and a star who completely owns the role. Where the film lacks, however, is its flimsy tonal coherence – it consistently goes out of its way to show you how tough it is, but isn’t able to balance this ferocity with how much it secretly wants to follow Angelina Jolie’s original, more absurd films. 

When we first meet the new Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), she’s barely living from paycheck to paycheck, a poor bike courier who’s rejected a lofty inheritance. Rather than signing into her father’s fortune, she wants to make it on her own, while also unable to confront the fact that her father may actually be dead (he mysteriously vanished almost a decade before). Without a steady job, she finally decides to sign into her father’s legacy. Before she can, she discovers an artifact that points towards her father’s final whereabouts. A trail of clues eventually lead her to a secluded island named Yamatai, where she discovers that a militant organization named Trinity is searching for a mythical tomb. Stranded on Yamatai and desperate to find any information about her father, Lara fights to stay one step ahead of Trinity, using nothing but her wit and surroundings to survive. 

Uthaug’s film seems like the type that, on paper, doesn’t really have anything wrong with it. The story is well written, Lara is compelling, the adventure is nonstop and the emotional backbone is solid. In its finished form however, the film feels at odds with itself. After a rousing and fun first act on the streets of London, the film shifts into an all out battle for survival that isn’t able to handle the unintentional silliness that lies beneath the surface. Scenes in which the laws of nature don’t apply are spliced between straight-faced ferocity. When divorced from its original medium, the story’s lack of interactivity and an extremely compressed runtime suck a lot out of a nuanced narrative. Yes, the film has some great set pieces and the action is as hard-hitting as it comes, but there’s also a lot that feels slightly out of place. In addition, the film comes off as loose Last Crusade remake, but without the charm.

Tomb Raider review Alicia Vikander Daniel WuIf there’s a part of the film that’s unquestionably great, it’s casting. As Lara Croft, Vikander is everything the film needs. From the fierce physicality, to the understated emotion behind every action, there’s a conviction and urgency to her that is as genuine as it gets. We never once question the way she commands the screen, giving the character as much substance as the film’s limited runtime and glossed-over story can give. The best part is, there’s still a lot of room to grow too, and should there be more, Vikander is an empowering force worth the admission alone. Opposite, Walton Goggins does his best with a paper-thin role. Goggins is an underrated master at his craft, oozing menace and a tormented psyche all at once. Though he doesn’t get as fleshed out as we’d like, we believe every word that comes out of his mouth, and never deny his desperation. Dominic West and Daniel Wu add texture, but due to the film’s focus, don’t get as much emphasis.

In the scheme of things, it isn’t fair to lump Tomb Raider in with the endless heap of truly bad video game films that came before it. This isn’t a bad film, per se, it’s just too little too late, and a bit outdated at that. Milage will definitely vary even though Vikander is stellar in the role, but in the end, the film is what it is and nothing more – two hours of popcorn thrills that entertain but never really leave much of a distinctive mark. If you played the new reboot, this is basically a big-budget, live action summary of its many cinematic cutscenes. On one side, it’s great to see something faithful, on the other, it doesn’t have much of its own to offer. Still, if only for the interesting stories left to be told, I’d definitely be down to watch more from where this came from, and as is, Uthaug’s sincerity ain’t anything to scoff at.