6.5 out of 10
Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft
Directed by Roar Uthaug
Tomb Raider Review:
Tomb Raider suffers from the same two problems that almost every video game adaptation suffers from. First, it’s hard to engage with a movie the way that you can with a game. The storytelling mechanisms are different. During many of the film’s action sequences, I half-expected an icon to appear in the lower portion of the screen indicating which button to push to allow the scene to continue. That may be unfair to the movie a bit, but storytelling and interactivity do not always mesh together well, especially if you’re used to being the catalyst for the story to proceed. Besides, in my experience, Tomb Raider was always one of the more difficult action-adventure games out there, requiring quite a bit of skill. It’s not a very passive game. In that regard, a movie based on that game simply can’t engage at the same level, which leads to my second problem.
When it comes to the action-adventure genre, when you pull from the Raiders of the Lost Ark playbook, you better have a compelling story to tell. Games can have pretty terrific stories – for games. But cinema’s been at this storytelling business for quite a bit longer, and I’ve found that what works in a game simply doesn’t onscreen. Since “choice” is taken away, what is left better have enough craft and ingenuity in the material to keep audiences interested. And for Tomb Raider, much of this has just been done better in many other movies. It’s always a plot about how the heroes need to get the Ark/Grail/Infinity Stone before the bad guys do, and when you’ve seen this story play out countless times previously, if you don’t have something interesting to say, it all becomes disposable entertainment.
However, Tomb Raider does have one thing going for it, and that’s the performance of Alicia Vikander, and her work here is enough to push the movie into “Worth seeing on a Saturday matinee” territory. She commits to the role of Lara Croft completely, and while Tomb Raider suffers from origin story tropes, she sells it utterly. She’s easily the best thing about the movie. Her physicality is strong, and you believe that she’s a character with agency, who can take on all comers. There’s no damsel in distress here – while Lara Croft finds herself in tough situations, the sheer will of Vikander’s performance is enough to convince anyone that she’s quite capable of handling herself. The bad guys don’t stand a chance – which actually works against some of the drama of the film, because it’s obvious from frame one that Lara Croft is going to overcome any obstacle that you put in front of her. When you have a heroine facing off against a machine gun-toting henchman with nothing but a bow and arrow and there’s no doubt the heroine will prevail, it takes a lot of the suspense out of it.
In the days before computer special effects, stunt work felt dangerous and real, but now, in the days where it becomes obvious that a character is jumping from one green pad to another green pad, it feels less formidable and more routine. Tomb Raider has a couple of sequences like that, which takes away from the thrills. Tomb Raider works best when we see Lara Croft figuring out a problem and then using her skills to solve it, whether it’s a clue that helps unravel the mystery, or when she’s in a tight spot and she has to figure out how to survive it. A sequence on a downed airplane in the middle of the jungle is probably the strongest action sequence in the film, although it’s riddled with too much CGI that at times it feels like a cutscene from the game. But the way Vikander stays true to the character keeps all the action grounded and engaging. Tomb Raider is a film that I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to down the road, if the filmmakers can manage to find genuinely new stories to tell that aren’t beholden to past games or origins.
Walton Goggins is always a pleasure to watch onscreen, and I like that the film tries to elicit a little sympathy in his character, but mostly he’s just there to be the obstacle in Lara Croft’s way. Similarly, Dominic West as Lara’s father is cliche from beginning to end, but he does give it a decent try. He’s just stuck in the mechanisms of the story.Tomb Raider is a film that desperately needs to escape the bonds of the tropes that bind it, but it never does. It’s through the sheer strength of Alicia Vikander’s performance that the film works at all. It’s not even worth diving into the story very much in a review, because I guarantee you’ve seen this story before.
Norwegian director Roar Uthaug has skills when it comes to action. His previous film, The Wave, is actually quite good — imagine a huge Roland Emmerich-inspired disaster movie but filled with characters you actually care about — and he was probably chosen for this film because of both the character work there, as well as bringing epic scale sequences on what was probably a low budget. However, there isn’t a whole lot of Tomb Raider that we haven’t seen before, but Alicia Vikander elevates the material and her performance here is so good that I wouldn’t mind seeing another one of these movies. They just need to steer away from the games and tell a story that isn’t so reliant on the familiar tropes that we’ve seen a thousand times. Vikander deserves a better movie around her, and while Tomb Raider is entertaining enough, it evaporates from the mind about 15 minutes after you see it. As a two-hour diversion from the day, I can recommendTomb Raider, but other than Alicia Vikander, it doesn’t leave a lasting impression.