Tomb Raider Review: Better Luck Next Time
Tomb Raider review: Alicia Vikander elevates the adaptation of the 2013 Tomb Raider game reboot, but can’t do it all on her own.
It’s not exactly groundbreaking to point out that video game adaptations haven’t fared all that well recently… or, well, ever. That’s actually being generous; most of them are hot garbage. Any field where Uwe Boll can thrive is deeply suspect, and despite some promising indications in recent years the genre as a whole has yet to find the secret sauce that will give Hollywood its next superhero-like golden goose.
Tomb Raider isn’t the movie that cracks that code, but it is a very small step in the right direction.
Not to be confused with the Angelina Jolie Raider films which were loosely based on the games that debuted in 1996, Tomb Raider is based on the 2013 reboot of the game series. So the film is a reboot of a reboot. Clear?
Like the 2013 game, the film tries to take the subject matter seriously. No one says dumb stuff like “There’s a tomb over there that needs to be raided” and you won’t find Lara running from a dinosaur. There are a few nods to the gameplay – the odd puzzle and climbing danger – but they actually fit within the context of the story without being cheesy. In fact, Tomb Raider is actually well-intentioned adaptation, but it misses a few major points along the way.
Director Roar Uthaug treats the property with respect, which is a good thing. Most game to film adaptations have treated their properties – and by extension their fans – like they were silly, so the movies were silly. That’s slowly changing, and films like Tomb Raider and Michael Fassbender’s Assassin’s Creed are trying a new approach that may one day lead to something incredible. Even if they don’t actually work as films.
The story starts off promisingly enough. Young, orphaned Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is living in deep denial, barely surviving while refusing to accept her extremely large inheritance, because to do so would be to legally confirm that her long-missing father (Dominic West) is dead. When she receives some of her father’s belongings Lara begins to piece together where he went, and she decides to follow.
With the help of Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), the son of a sailor that disappeared with Daddy Croft, Lara finds the uncharted island where her father was heading. But instead of a long dreamed of reunion, she is quickly wrapped up in the machinations of a private military lead by a madman (Walton Goggins) searching for the lost tomb of a mythical queen said to control the power of life and death.
It’s actually fairly close to the game in a lot of ways. Lara is capable, but not a superhero. She doesn’t just go from bike courier to special ops bad ass as soon as bullets start flying, she stumbles from scene to scene, barely surviving each encounter, which makes the action more compelling.
Vikander elevates the material significantly. Like all the best action heroes, she takes an absolute beating and sells it, very much in the vein of John McClane in the original Die Hard before he became a superhuman killing machine. But ultimately the film lets her down.
Tomb Raider follows the basic idea of the rebooted game, which was designed to give Lara a gritty, realistic(ish) origin story that saw her go from naive woman to survivor to bad ass. It worked exceedingly well in a game that was meant to be played over 20-40 hours. The film sort of takes the beginning and end points then ties them together with a pointless plotline involving the Croft family that only serves to distract from what should be at the heart of the film: the evolution of Lara Croft.
There’s also a disconnect with the supporting characters, especially Goggins and Wu who both show flashes of being so much more. There are plenty of hints that they have much deeper stories that would have helped flesh out the more generic parts of the film, but they become plot moppets to push the story along. There’s a similar issue with the island they all find themselves on. You see hints that it is a scary, dark place with potentially mystical terrors waiting in the wings. But that disappears at about the same point when the unnecessary Croft family plotline comes in. After that, the scary island is just an island. For that, you have to put much of the blame on Uthaug.
There may be a really good version of Tomb Raider somewhere on an editing room floor, but the version we get neglects the characters in favor of the story – and it’s a pretty average story.
Despite it all, Vikander manages to hold it all together, but only just. Tomb Raider is very much set up as the first in a series. Vikander alone is enough of a draw to make that appealing, and if that happens maybe the follow up can get out of its own way and offer something that has a clearer idea of what it wants to be.
Tomb Raider Review Conclusion
Tomb Raider feels like several good ideas thrown together into a ring, where they all end up fighting each other until the clock runs out. There’s no clear theme that emerges, and every time the movie threatens to do something interesting – like when Lara is forced to confront the intense violence she is forced to commit and it horrifies her – it throws something else at audiences and goes off into a new direction.
There’s a reason Vikander won an Oscar, and it’s very much on display in Tomb Raider. The rest of the film just isn’t up to her standards. There’s are hints of a really good movie buried deep under the one we got, but the pointless subplots just drag Vikander down and kill her potential.
Tomb Raider is rated PG13 with a running time of 122 minutes.