Another year, another attempt to engineer a cinematic saga based on a series of popular video games. Following the 2001 and 2003 films starring Angelina Jolie, Tomb Raider is Hollywood’s latest attempt to crack the elusive code, and safe to say that the dispiritingly bland result won’t break the video game movie curse.
Tomb Raider sees a young Lara Croft struggling to process the disappearance of her father (Dominic West), a man who was obsessed with searching for an ancient Japanese death queen called Himiko, in a bid to prove that the supernatural exists. Croft Jr. decides to pick up where her father left off and find Himiko’s mythical tomb on a faraway island off the coast of Japan, hoping that daddy dearest might still show up… Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander is a decent enough casting choice as the titular heroine, here significantly less bathykolpian and mercifully less sexually objectified than Jolie was at the turn of this century. However, the fantastically-named Norwegian director Roar Uthaug struggles with the character. Basing this newest film on the 2013 game reboot, he attempts to orchestrate a back-to-basics origin story that yearns to do for Lara Croft what Batman Begins did for Bruce Wayne, ie: establish the character as more relatable and vulnerable. On one side, Vikander compellingly shows this when Croft struggles with her first kill, immediately struck by shock and confusion at how she managed to overcome her assailant. Sadly, her efforts are undercut by an absolute clunker of a screenplay which weighs the actress down with a cringy and overwrought father-daughter story, and some set pieces that call for some rather garish special effects. This plethora of chain-produced action sequences dully jettison some of the more realistic elements. Granted, few people come to an adventure film like this searching for stripped-down naturalism, but the number of bone-crunching injuries inflicted on our heroine beggars belief. This is all the more jarring when considered alongside the impressive recent Mission: Impossible films, which pride themselves on pushing the envelope by relying less on CGI and more on actual stunt work.
Ultimately, Tomb Raider is nothing to get particularly angry about. It shamelessly pilfers from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade and, in its lack of ambition or originality, ends up in National Treasure territory. But considering the in-built audience, successful brand name and A-list potential in play, it remains a squandered opportunity comparable to recent game-inspired duds like Assassin’s Creed and Warcraft. And while an immersive trip to the cinema is always preferable, if you’re in the mood for a female-lead adventure with everything Tomb Raider doesn’t have – ie: brains, brawn and brilliance – you’re better off staying at home and watching Alex Garland’s excellent Annihilation, which hit Netflix in Europe earlier this week.
Tomb Raider | Directed by Roar Uthaug (US, 2018), with Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Kristin Scott Thomas. Starts March 15.
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