Tomb Raider review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
The 2018 iteration of Tomb Raider aims to play it safe. The criticism of the previous two films seemed to be that they were too dumb, silly, and sexualized. Considering how the character of Lara Croft has been reimagined as a more gritty feminist icon, all those skintight suits and ridiculous set-pieces have been done away with. In its place is a film that tries so hard to not be idiotic it wound up being just that.
Lara is now played by Alicia Vikander as the tough girl on the streets of London. Or at least she’d like to be. Her father, a millionaire played by Dominic West, went missing when she was a little girl and left her the estate. But Lara can’t be bothered with inheriting her wealth as she is too busy boxing at the gym or slumming in street sports to make ends meet. It isn’t until she stumbles into dad’s secret treasure hunting room and discovers where her dad may have been this whole time. This would be a great time to cash in on dad’s fortune to stage a rescue operation, right? Not a chance. Lara would much rather hire a drunk ship captain (Daniel Wu) with pathos for wanting to find Lara’s dad as well. That’s apparently the Croft way, according to the character.
Daddy Croft disappeared on a mysterious Japanese island, searching for the legendary Himiko and her corpse that myth states have the power to bring death to whoever she touched. If you miss this opening narration of the MacGuffin, don’t fret; it will be repeated more than once on this adventure. So far the film was very clunky in trying to get Lara to the island, but I had some hope once she arrived to discover an evil slave driver seeking the treasure, played by Walton Goggins. Unfortunately, this is when the movie starts to embrace its blandness. Goggins plays the villain in a manner so tired and devoid of any personality that he has to say he’s a crazy man with kids back home and the audience is just going to have to take his word for it. When the Croft dad is finally found with his beard inside his cave, he too doesn’t showcase much of the insanity one might have for being stranded in isolation for almost a decade. Even the tomb feels so unbelievably generic with its traps, skeletons, and riddles that it may as well have been built with plastic and shot with even lighting.
The one aspect that saves the film from being a complete train wreck is Vikander. She is really trying to be an action hero in a picture where she throws punches, takes punches, fires arrows from a bow, and kicks bad guys into pits. She’s given a number of scenes to show off her vigor as though she were in a female rendition of Rambo, trying to match the grit of Stallone. It’s unfortunate, however, that she’s trapped in a silly treasure hunting adventure film which, despite the directorial efforts to be taken seriously, all leads to the typical tropes of the genre. While I did enjoy every moment Vikander was kicking butt on screen, her scenes almost made me depressed knowing all this fury was going to lead up to a forgettable tomb exploration and a dry MacGuffin plot.
While Tomb Raider doesn’t belong among the ranks of the worst movies ever based on a video game, there’s nothing all that memorable here either. There never felt as though there was a consistent tone, floating between being a brutal action picture and corny adventure story, never blending the two as it struggles to enforce its female empowerment. The only merit to seeing such a spectacle is for Vikander’s moves and even then you’ll be wishing she had a better to occupy. When there’s no action on the screen, there’s tired line readings and yawn-worthy thrills, making me wish that movie were more of a train wreck to at least be noteworthy. If anything, my love for Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider has only increased. Sure, watching her fight a giant robot was silly, but consider the genre. It’s not one best known for gritty survival drama and this Tomb Raider is proof that these films shouldn’t be taken so seriously. When Lara has to stop the movie so she can solve the tomb puzzle of matching colored stones to light, it really takes away from that stellar scene where she survives a plane toppling over a waterfall.