Director: Roar Uthaug
Writers: Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas
What would you do to find a lost loved one? That’s the question we get to see the newest version of Lara Croft answer in the Tomb Raider reboot. And the answer to the question, of course, is to raid some tombs.
We meet Lara as she’s struggling to make a living for herself in the heart of London. She’s losing MMA training fights. She’s working a thankless courier job. The one thing she appears to be good at is getting in trouble with the police. After her latest run-in with the bobbies, her step-mother comes to rescue her. She insists that she sign the death certificate of her missing-and-presumed-dead father. This means she’d gain a massive inheritance, a lucrative job, stocks and bonds, and many leather-bound books.
At the signing, she finds a small clue her father left behind and takes off on a hunt for him without leaving her Herbie Hancock on the certificate. The trail eventually leads her to a mysterious, off-the-grid, and super-deadly Japanese island where she ends up facing power-hungry foes who are after the burial site of Himiko, the Blood Queen of Yamati. She is rumored to have a powerful curse around her that could destroy the world—a curse that Lara’s father was bent on keeping at bay before he vanished.
Before I go on to the actual review part of this review, I want to make one thing obvious. I don’t think it’s fair that this movie has an incredible amount of media to compare it to. This Tomb Raider is going to get compared to the original Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie. It’s going to get compared to the source material video game, which itself is a reboot (is this our first reboot movie of a reboot video game that’s also a reboot movie franchise?). It’s going to get compared to Indiana Jones because of all the adventure and archeological similarities. So I want this review, despite the comparisons I’m definitely going to make in the list above, to have to live up to a different standard.
That standard is this video of me throwing a chicken in one of the newer Tomb Raider games (!!!!DISCLAIMER!!!! This is from the second video game in the series—not the game the movie is loosely based on). Have a watch before we continue.
Ok, now that that’s done, let’s move on to the review.
I was preparing myself to hate this movie, or, more optimistically, be bored. There are certain movies you see that are so forgettable. You know they’re destined to end up being replayed on cable TV for eternity, like anything that starts with “G.I. Joe.” I didn’t really get any of those impressions from seeing this movie. Although, I can still see it becoming a cable TV favorite. It wasn’t all that bad, especially for a video game movie. But it wasn’t as memorable as it could’ve been.
I think one of my biggest complaints is that the script felt a little like it was lazily written or rushed into production too fast. Alicia Vikander, for what she was given, did a great job with the character of Lara Croft. But the problem was that the character isn’t given a lot of depth. I remember playing the video game and being struck by how Lara gets the absolute snot kicked out of her but keeps persisting despite everything. She was a young, novice explorer. She wasn’t graceful by any means, but she was determined and got the job done.
And to give the movie credit, you do see Lara get knocked around a couple times, and she does seem to have a goal, but none of it seems like it’s there to explore her as a character. It feels more like a plot device. I wanted Lara to be more of a tomboyish, cocky jerk at the beginning of the movie, see her rush headlong into this adventure without thinking about it, quickly realize the hard realities of life, be humbled by her reliance on bravado and lack of foresight, and adapt and grow accordingly. All of the butt-kicking that Lara experiences exists more just to give the movie some action. She still seems like a cardboard cutout version of a person by the end of the film.
Admittedly, this is much like the chicken video above: She just hums along with a small amount of conflict, but picks the chicken up and accomplishes her goal fairly quickly.
The other major complaint I had was the story arc. This, more than a lot of other video game-based movies, had strong roots to the source material, but a huge detriment to the movie version is the complete decimation of the cast from the video game. Remember all the people that crash-landed on the island with her? And how important to the whole mythos of Himiko Sam was? Yeah, none of that was anywhere in this movie.
The elements that made it into the movie were a boat and a boat’s captain. But the big secret of Himiko’s tomb was pretty lamesauce compared to the whole blood sacrifice of Sam thing. I’d much rather have a story about doing everything in your power to save your friend from becoming a victim of ritual sacrifice to unleash an ancient Japanese horror goddess than some limp-wristed, barley-explored struggle of sacrificing a few to save the many.
There were also a plethora of examples of lazy script writing. Lara is almost supernaturally quick at solving puzzles, except for like one that the ship’s captain solves just to spice things up. Her dad leaves her a video message to destroy all his research. So naturally, Lara keeps it all and uses it to go find her dad, who is McNulty from The Wire despite how much he tries to hide it with his natural British accent.
When Lara finally decides to accept her inheritance, she’s just like, “Ok cool now let me just go hang out all the time in the secret room in my family’s crypt.” She has a giant freaking mansion. There’s plenty of places to have a secret room. But I guess a crypt is kind of like a tomb, so you know, when in Rome or something. She also has all that money and gets a Volvo SUV for product placement purposes. There’s tons of other cars on my list that are way above a Volvo SUV if I had a small fraction of that amount of money.
Compare this with the arc—story and trajectory—of the chicken. The Tomb Raider reboot movie was pretty predictable. But so was the chicken toss. Even though you know what’s coming, you can’t help but anticipate the inevitable splash as the chicken completes its journey, and you felt entertained by the end. And the beautiful thing is that the decision made all the sense in the world and showed true character development in a streamlined fashion. Or at least, that’s what I hope you get out of the chicken video. Maybe I just need more friends.
Verdict: Pass, or at least rent it. The movie was mildly entertaining, but not enough to justify going to see it in theaters. You see very brief glimpses of how it could have been a good movie with soul and depth, but the slap-dash script denies it both of those. The humor is sparse—the funniest scene being in a pawn shop pretty early in the movie—and any potential that the movie had to bring any elements of horror is squandered. The scene traversing through Himiko’s booby trap-laden tomb was eerily similar to the end of The Last Crusade. Ultimately, you just don’t really care about the fate of any of the characters. I don’t exactly feel like I wasted time watching it, but it’s not one I’d watch again. The most this movie will leave you with is vague memories that you might have seen it once.