Tomb Raider | Roar Uthaug | March 16, 2018
After a 22-year video game history and a pair of movies that catered more to the supernatural and adolescent male fantasy elements of the original games, there may finally be a worthy video game-based movie in Tomb Raider.
This new Tomb Raider film, the first English-language feature from Rohr Uthaug, stars Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft, who seeks some excitement and danger in her London life, eschewing her thought-to-be-deceased father Richard’s (Dominic West) legacy and business holdings, and generally toughing it out seven years after his disappearance. When Croft executive board member and friend Ana Miller (Kristen Scott Thomas) and some flashbacks convince her to take over the estate, a gifted puzzle box leads Lara to her father’s hidden archeological expedition files, which spur her to gain closure and follow in his footsteps to track down the island of Yamatai, his last destination and the final resting place of Himiko, a Japanese empress of death. This journey brings her into contact with Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), the son of the shipowner who went missing when he chartered Richard’s final voyage, and Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), an agent of the secretive religious Order of Trinity stuck on Yamatai for the last 7 years looking to claim Himiko’s “power”, as well as a tomb to raid.
Given the last 20+ years of poorly received video game-based movies (most recently Assassin’s Creed, among others), it’s very refreshing to see an adaptation that takes its source material seriously. Tomb Raider‘s script, from Captain Marvel scribe Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, borrows elements from 2013’s Tomb Raider and 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider to weave a tale of adventure, closure, and coming into one’s own, all while wisely grounding the supernatural elements of the games. It starts by highlighting Lara’s intelligence, athleticism, resilience, and cunning, without shoehorning her into the damsel or love interest categories. In addition to Lara’s development, Lu gets into the adventuring mood with some heroic moments and also gets some closure. Vogel does get some minor development, but isn’t as compelling a villain, unfortunately. And even more of a waste is Derek Jacobi, appearing in a glorified book-ending cameo as a senior legal advisor/witness of the Croft estate. All that being said, the plot overall is engaging enough, but does fall on some action-adventure tropes a la Indiana Jones (namely the formulaic tomb raiding in act 3). And there are some mild moments of humor that help lighten the film.
On the technical side, however, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Some of the editing in the chase and action sequences in the second hour gets a little choppy. The cinematography makes some of the CG-enhanced and blue-screen set pieces stand out more than they should, which strains credulity and ironically makes the film look like an actual video game. There’s also a fair deal of handheld tight shots during more intimate moments that, when amplified by the big screen (this was a Dolby Cinema screening), were a little off-putting and left me feeling slightly disoriented. Musically, Junkie XL’s score isn’t as stand-out as that of, say, Fury Road, sadly.
If you’re going into Tomb Raider seeking a whole original action-adventure movie, you won’t get it. If you’re seeking something truer to the games and an improvement over the Angelina Jolie films, your expectations will likely be met. And if you’re pleased with the film and are hoping for a sequel, the ground is laid for a potential sequel, more than likely with the Order of the Trinity serving as the overarching Big Bad. If that’ll happen is anyone’s guess at this point, but if the film does well enough, it could come to fruition.