Tomb Raider Is a Perfectly Serviceable Action Film That Lacks a Sense of Fun
3 out of 5 Puzzle Boxes
When I came into the 2018 Tomb Raider movie I wanted three things from it: to be fun, for Lara to be a total badass, and for her to never be under the threat of rape. And I was happy to see the latter two happen, but throughout the film, I never felt a true sense of excitement or thrill.
2018’s Tomb Raider takes from the highly successful 2013 reboot of the video game series, which gives us a younger, not yet battle-hardened Lara Croft, played by Alicia Vikander. Her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), went missing seven years ago and young Lara, unable to accept his death, has refused to inherit her family money and instead works as a bike messenger in London. After getting bailed out by her family’s associate Ana Miller, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, Lara decides to sign the papers declaring her father dead. Before she can officially sign, she opens a puzzle box which leads her to her father other work.
Richard Croft was obsessed with the legend of the Japanese Death Queen Himiko, who was a mythical Queen of Yamatai who was supposed to have commanded power over life and death. According to the legend, Himiko was capable of killing people by just touching them, and was eventually chained and sent to a remote island to be buried alive, to prevent future harm. Lara decides that she needs to investigate further and follows her father’s research to go to the island of Yamatai and figure out what happened to him.
The early 2000s Lara Croft films were not masterpieces, but they were fun and most importantly Angelia Jolie’s Lara was fun to watch. I understand the purpose of this gritty, reboot of the series in film form, especially in terms of showing different physical body types as strong and not sexualizing the female lead. Both of those things are amazing, the problem is that the plot itself is pretty dull. It feels diluted.
Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that this movie is PG-13 based on a game rated MA. When the main reason you are rebooting something is to show grit, but you can’t even commit to the scale of violence in the film. Lara gets stabbed through the side at a point in the movie with a piece of shrapnel, but the movie forgets that at certain points once the action pieces become necessary.
We also spend the first half attempting to build the character of Lara, to show her growth, but really all she’s doing at the beginning of the film is acting like an extra from Dark Angel, working as a bike messenger and getting into races to make money when she’s got an entire super-British inheritance waiting for her at home. The only things we really know about Lara throughout the movie is that she loves her dad, is a survivor, is good at puzzles and somewhere between being a posh teenager and pretend poor in the present day she got really good at archery.
In terms of acting, everyone is pretty good, but especially Alicia Vikander as Lara and Daniel Wu as Lu Ren. Vikander reportedly put on 12 pounds of muscle for the role and you can feel her strength in power when Lara need to be physical up against male opponents. The people behind the film made it clear that they didn’t want Lara sexualized, dressing her in the reboot design of practical wear instead of short shorts and a tight crop top.
That being said, after the 15-20 minute mark, Lara doesn’t interact with another woman again until the end of the movie. Which is unlike the games, where there were two female crew members on Lara’s ship: Sam (who as Asian) and Reyes (who is black). Lara has one female friend at the beginning, who is seen in two scenes and then vanishes, and then Ana, who is in three scenes the whole movie.
Daniel Wu’s Lu Ren was a great companion character, who gets his own moments of intellect and heroism, but beyond those two, everyone is just a trope of a character that you’ve seen in almost every other movie like this. Nothing stands out, nothing really shocks you. It’s serviceable, but it’s not spectacular. There is no scene in this movie that wowed me in terms of action and it doesn’t spend enough time of Lara’s actual trauma throughout the island for it to have any emotional weight.
The CGI was very unremarkable to the point where I actually felt like I was looking at the special effects of a game. The story was fine, just again, felt like a less fun version of The Mummy (1999). That element of excitement and fun was missing and it held back too much on the blood due to the rating for Alicia Vikander go full Rambo, so instead we get this PG-13 “gritty” action movie that at its core, a Bildungsroman/ father-daughter story.
I appreciate all of the effort put into this film about trying to make it an empowering female action film, the problem is that in many ways we have seen people evolve the “Lara Croft” type character better, including the games themselves. This movie fails to commit to any of the things that made the games interesting and without any prominent women in the movie besides Lara, it just feels like more of the same rather than something really new and engaging.
(image: Warner Bros.)
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