Review: Tomb Raider
Water crashes, plummeting hundreds of feet below a massive waterfall. Her hands bound together by rope, Lara Croft, played by Alicia Vikander, holds on for her dear life. The only thing standing between Lara and certain death is a rusty old, abandoned plane, for which Ms. Croft is dangling from the wing, it too being destined for death.
Released 15 years after the previous Tomb Raider film, The Cradle of Life, Vikander’s Croft is a different breed from her earlier cinematic incarnation. She’s stubborn, tough, independent, and better yet, intuitive and genuine.
Croft is able to make her way inside the plan. With just enough time to sigh in relief, the plane starts to shake. It’s going over the edge of the waterfall, about to take the soon to be famed archeologist down with it. Lara works to cut her hands free from the rope and escape her would-be demise.
Much like its 2013 video game counterpart, it too a hardened reboot of what came before, this scenario and the handful of others pitting the heroine against grave danger and forcing her to think fast for her survival, are easily the best moments this reboot has to offer. They have the raw power to put you on the edge of your seat and to make you feel the danger, to make you feel like you’re there with Lara Croft.
Tomb Raider is night and day different from the Angelina Jolie films, which were tongue n’ cheek adventures with winky dialogue and over the top action that also oozed of sexuality in order to capitalize on the puberty of teenage boys, going as far to have a gratuitous shower scene (apparently ripped right out of one the video games, I might add). In Jolie’s defense, she allegedly didn’t even want to wear the extremely short shorts and liberally padded bra and her films were very much a product of their time, when Lara Croft was the Raquel Welch of video game characters. Game developer Crystal Dynamics washed all that way, prioritized story and drama over pixelated mounds, and delivered something with a sharper edge. Vikander’s version takes after that, with a characterization that is far less cartoony than Jolie’s.
The story does well to pit Vikander against Walton Goggins’ mentally unbalanced villain, a man whose motivations are far more grounded and rich than the typical “muhahahas” of the world domination-mad bad guys made famous by this genre. Instead, he’s just an overworked, lonesome grunt with tired eyes, who just wants to go home, willing to do whatever it takes to get there and see his family. Of course, his character is completely despicable and amoral, but it’s always compelling to know where the menace in a villain’s eyes comes from. It makes his antagonist feel more unique and less interchangeable.
Tomb Raider is confident, entertaining action/adventure all the way up to the climax, but it doesn’t quite stick the landing, as it delivers a twist that can be seen a mile away. This is not because it makes any sense at all, but because we’ve seen it a hundred times before, in countless video games, comics, movies, and tv shows. At this point, it would have been a better twist not to have that twist.
And then it’s followed by a mid-credits scene that was spoiled in the trailers. That is no fault at all to the filmmakers. They can’t control the invasive nature of the marketing guys who love to give away the film’s secrets. However, to be fair, the scene left me with a particularly stale taste, as it belong in this film, but instead in Jolie’s.
Sometimes I don’t quite know how I feel about a film until I sit down to write about it. I left the theater with a headache and a bland feeling from the final ten minutes or so, as well as from Tom Holkenborg’s underwhelming score and scenes heavily borrowed from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But after writing about the film, I feel confident with my decision to award it with three stars. Tomb Raider is a competent adventure highlighted by Vikander and Goggins’ engaging characterizations. I may not see myself buying it when it comes to home video, but it is not a bad choice for a Saturday afternoon viewing on Netflix.