Tomb Raider (2018) Review
"Tomb Raider" is directed by Roar Uthaug (The Wave) and its screenplay is written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet (debut) and Alastair Siddons (Trespass Against Us). Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) stars as Lara Croft; she is accompanied by Walton Goggins (Justified), Dominic West (The Wire) and Daniel Wu (New Police Story). "Lara Croft, 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". It has been 15 years since "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life"; has enough time passed for a reimagining of the character? Can "Tomb Raider" defy the infamous reputation of video game film adaptions?
The general consensus is that films based on video games are bad. I personally think some progress was made with "Warcraft" which introduced an immersive fantasy world, but that film was far from perfect. Any good "Warcraft" managed to do was soon erased by the terrible "Assassin's Creed". However, "Tomb Raider" moves video game adaptions back in the right direction. Going in, I did not know what to expect - I have watched 2001's "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" and found it to be dire...this one was almost guaranteed to be better.Growing up, I did not play many video-games but I did watch my sister and cousin play the old-style Tomb Raider so nostalgia did make me intrigued to see this film. I was most looking forward to seeing "Tomb Raider" as it promised a female action hero. Uthaug and Vikander's version of Lara Croft does not disappoint; she is likeable, strong, clever, emotional and determined. "Tomb Raider" levels up the standard for future video game movies.
Alicia Vikander's performance as Lara Croft is going to be divisive; some are going to reject her portrayal instantly because it is a stark contrast to how Angelina Jolie played the character 15 years ago. Some reviews have called both the character and Vikander's performance bland. However, I think Vikander's performance is understated and nuanced; she does a great job. This is completely different to her previous roles and if "Tomb Raider" is a financial success, Lara Croft could easily become Vikander's career-defining role; she definitely proves to have the acting chops for an action star. It is great that Vikander and Jolie portrayed the character in contrasting ways as it means that their portrayals can exist in the same space; Vikander certainly does not replace Jolie, but her version of the character is refreshingly different and when all is said and done, Vikander's performance is stronger and her version of the character is simply better. Vikander added subtleties to her performance that made the character seem more realistic and endearing. For example, the way she uses her eyes to express certain emotions and reactions was something I picked up on and appreciated. They may get annoying to some, but Vikander delivers Croft's famous grunts and screams well, even if they did seem a little much. In this film, Lara Croft is not sexualised and while she clearly has muscles and superb upper-body strength, she is not on the other side of the spectrum of being ultra-muscular either (a la Sarah Connor). This is good for female representation as the character is neither objectified or made to seem superhuman; 2018's Lara Croft is more realistic, likeable and grounded. The only problem is that Lara Croft is the only 'strong' (or well-written) female character in the entire film; the rest of the leads are male, the only other female character is Kristin Scott Thomas', Ana Miller. However, it was nice and refreshing to see Croft get on with others - too often a strong, empowered female character has poor interpersonal skills, but Croft is unproblematic and can work in a team and on her own.
Vikander may be great but the same cannot be said for Walton Goggins and Dominic West who give overly eccentric and forced performances; their characters belong in a pantomime, not a serious action film. Goggins and West are not all to blame for this, the script does contain plenty of corny lines which would be hard for any actor to deliver. Goggins' Mathias Vogel is the film's villains and it was unusual yet welcome to see a villain be as brutal and wicked as they make out; Mathias has no mercy when it comes to shooting his prisoners. It was also shocking to find out that Mathias killed the fathers of Lara and Lu Ren (Daniel Wu). The impact of this was soon lessened though when it is revealed that Lara's father is still alive - I'm not too sure why Mathias told Lara he killed her father and it was never made too clear how/why Richard Croft (West) escaped. Some will see it coming, but I was surprised to find Richard still alive. The twist injected a burst of energy into the plot as it passed the half-way point. Despite being unsure of West's overall performance, the father/daughter chemistry he had with Vikander did feel genuine and helped to heighten emotions in particular scenes. Daniel Wu is underused, anybody who knows anything about the importance of the Asian box office will know that is exactly why Wu was cast in a prominent role. However, Wu adds little to the film (mainly due to a lack of screen-time), let's hope he helps deliver strong numbers at the Asian box office. Although it is unfortunate that Lara is the lone well-developed female character, it was pleasing to see her alongside a group of well-written male characters (until recently, films with female leads often included poorly written males).
The narrative is where "Tomb Raider" falters; there is nothing special or memorable about this origin story. While the plot has a few twists and turns throughout, the finale is quite predictable; a portion of the most significant scene is in the trailer! Anyone who is not familiar with this film's trailers should continue avoiding them for the film's narrative to be a little less obvious. The film is well paced though with a good balance of action sequences and dialogue-based scenes that are necessary to move along the narrative. Some fans will be disappointed to find out that Vikander's Croft does not appear in the iconic 'Tomb Raider French Braid' until the very final scene. This is teased in the trailer which looking back was a little naughty of the marketing team (let's hope die-hard fans are not too upset!). Other than the revelation that Richard Croft is still alive, the film's other big twist is that 'the death witch', Himiko does not have supernatural powers, it is a contagious disease that led to her touch killing masses of people. Just like Vikander's portrayal of the character is more grounded, this twist made the film slightly more realistic. I did not see this twist coming and was expecting a CGI heavy finale battle against Himiko, the actual result was much more satisfying. The script did a poor job explaining why it was necessary for Mathias to give a sample of Himiko to Trinity; the whole idea of Trinity was very badly explained. The scenes in London at the beginning of the film were enjoyable; it captured London life in 2018 well, especially as Lara essentially works as a Deliveroo biker (could possibly lead to the film easily ageing though). The characters briefly visit Hong Kong but all of the best action occurs on the mysterious island. Uthaug could have done a better job of representing the island; the rich colours could have been utilised and the lacklustre production design definitely felt like every scene was filmed on a 'set', not an entire island that could be explored. The film poses a final twist at the end that sets up a sequel; Ana Miller is a secret villain and is the mastermind of Trinity. I really want a sequel! (but I do still believe that films should stop setting up sequels so obviously!).
"Tomb Raider" is full of exciting action - heavy waves, pickpockets, bike chases and boxing matches are just some of the words that come to mind when thinking of all the different action-packed scenes. There is one scene that is especially thrilling - most of it is given away in the trailer but it is nevertheless the film's standout moment. It begins with Lara in a choppy river; she nearly falls down a waterfall but grabs on to the wing of a crashed plane; that wing then collapses but Lara somehow gets inside the cabin; the cabin then begins to start falling but Lara grabs on to a parachute and lands in a forest. Fate is definitely on Lara's side as admittedly, the solutions to each of those were a little too convenient. However, this sequence had me on the edge of my seat and the visual effects were tremendous. The third act brings another strong action sequence - Lara and the rest of the explorers enter the tomb which is full of booby traps, challenges and the deadly Himiko; making for a very exciting and thrilling third act. I would have loved a wide shot of Lara moving through the tomb, like in the original video game, that was a major missed opportunity. The third act also ties together the central theme of Lara's relationship with her father. Lara begins the film believing her father is dead; she then goes on an adventure to find out where he went and finds out he is still alive; in the final act, Lara's father sacrifices himself for the greater good (recalling an earlier line about saving one for the many) and Lara has to accept that he is definitely gone this time. This made Lara's final confrontation with Mathias all the more powerful; as an audience, we are rooting for Lara as she fights through her grief as well as stopping the outbreak of a disease.
"Tomb Raider" may just be the best example of a video game adaptation yet. Despite its flaws, it delivers an entertaining and often thrilling time; the 'abandoned plane' sequence and the scenes inside the tomb are highlights. Alicia Vikander gives a performance that, is not going to please everybody, but should be celebrated for portraying a different kind of Lara Croft; it is also a potential star-turn for Vikander too. The supporting cast is not as strong but still serviceable. Predictable but also full of unexpected twists, audience members should have an exciting time watching this film. The production design could be stronger, the plot is nothing special and the cinematography is a missed opportunity but there is so much fun to be had with this movie! "Tomb Raider" does great things for the representation of women as well as the reputation of video game adaptations. Enter this tomb with low expectations and the adventure that awaits should not disappoint.