TOMB RAIDER Review

The newly re-booted and freshly grounded Tomb Raider from Warner Bros. isn't necessarily bad, but it is pretty bland. There is a constant back and forth as one experiences the final product given there is real promise in what is essentially the entire first act as the viewer gets to know this younger, more inexperienced Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) and the mysteries surrounding her father's disappearance as well as the issues she has been working through as a result of such. It is when the movie goes from slyly intriguing to full-on what the target demographic expects from a Tomb Raider movie that most of the intrigue disappears and what we're left with is a series of action sequences that look like the actual video game that inspired the movie. The more reliable and realistic visual effects become the easier it will be to lean on them and while this seems to have become more and more apparent over the last few years it seems especially glaring when the source material for an effects-laden blockbuster is that of a fully digital world. Once our titular protagonist gives into the life she was always meant to have, despite who she was when trying to make a living on her own accord being more interesting, Croft is quickly swept off to Hong Kong and then to the next level, I mean act, of the movie where we continue to go through stage after stage of Croft getting closer and closer to her end goal, which in this movie, has something to do with an ancient Queen that was said to command the power over life and death. Why someone would want to seek out much less break open the tomb of an ancient spirit that was capable of killing people simply by touching them is beyond me, but that is the quest we're sent on and the tomb we're meant to raid and so that is what unfolds. Naturally, there are layers and bad guys along that way that make this journey a little more interesting or at least a little more dramatic, but it no matter how much Tomb Raider wants to feel like a fun adventure tale it is far too gritty and routine for its own good. Unlike last week's A Wrinkle in Time, which didn't necessarily work as a whole, but was at least trying to do something fresh and innovative with the material it was based on Tomb Raider instead works as a coherent whole in terms of style and tone, but does nothing with these features to accentuate them in any special or meaningful way.

Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) finds herself in over her head when landing in Hong Kong.
Photo by Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture - © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
To be fair, the movie does come back around to explain why Croft's father, a wealthy aristocrat with his own holding company, desired so strongly to keep the location of this tomb a secret and seek it out for himself so that the powers within didn't fall into the wrong hands, but still...they may as well have made it so that at least Croft was seeking a rare artifact or something to really play up the female Indiana Jones angle, but whatever you say, world-builders. From what I've gathered concerning this re-boot this latest Croft film is based almost exclusively on a video game from 2013 that also took on the prequel story of our heroine and made the character more dimensional by making her a little less dimensional, know what I mean? None of this really matters though unless the story itself is interesting enough or the characters become endearing to the point of genuine investment. Obviously, with a potential franchise-type character one would want the characters to be appealing enough to the point that whatever adventure Croft goes on it doesn't really matter as long as the viewers want to go on those adventures with her. This is the strongest quality of director Roar Uthaug's (The Wave) film as the best thing Warner Bros. could have done was cast a quality actress in the role rather than leaving this to feel like the second-tier franchise it actually is. By placing a pedigreed actor such as Vikander in the role there is this inherently draw to her presence and what she might do with such a commercial role that pulls the viewer into Croft's plight and in the two opening scenes this couldn't prove to be more true or more charming in the sense that despite the fact Lara Croft is known for being this badass female action hero we see her get her ass handed to her at the boxing gym and then in a really cool chase sequence that lays the foundation for her skill-level and ambition while showing that she's not this unstoppable or immortal hero, but rather that she is a fallible human being. The boxing scene is more one to display Vikander's chiseled physique (cue those who want to complain about her lack of curves, but any way you cut it the girl is gorgeous) and to endear us to her somewhat goofy personality whereas Uthaug stages the chase scene that entails Croft attaching a fox tail and a can of paint with a hole in it to the back of her bicycle to be chased by a horde of other cyclists who are trying to retrieve the tail for a cash prize in a way that is both exhilarating and visually interesting setting a precedent he unfortunately can't uphold throughout the rest of the film.

Soon after being jailed for her "fox run" stunt Croft is bailed out by an old associate of her fathers and the woman who now runs her father's company, Ana Miller (the always formidable Kristn Scott Thomas). Miller informs Croft that if she doesn't soon sign the papers to claim her inheritance that her family will lose their estate. Signing these papers and accepting said inheritance though, means accepting the fact her father truly is gone forever and Vikander's Croft just isn't ready to accept that truth just yet. It has been seven years since her father, Richard (Dominic West), disappeared after travelling to the mysterious island of Yamatai. Upon Croft showing up at Croft Holdings to follow through on Miller's recommendation she receives a gift from the family lawyer (Derek Jacobi showing up for no more than two scenes) that she is told was to be given to her only after her father's death. Through this gift Croft discovers a coded message with a key that leads her to a hidden office her father kept a secret on the grounds of the family estate. Within his office, Croft finds maps and plans concerning Yamati, but most importantly-a video message-from her late father telling her to destroy all of his research concerning Himiko, the aforementioned ancient queen, but given Croft's pension for following rules and her desire to better get to know who her father truly was she decides to investigate further. It is at this point that the movie begins globe-trotting as we travel to Hong Kong where Croft tracks down the son of the deceased sailor whom her father chartered a ship from when he originally traveled to Yamati and whom she asks to do the same for her. Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) makes something of an amusing foil for Croft as his character is more than paper thin, but his intentions are as noble as could be given the context of their circumstances. On top of this, Wu has a natural charisma to him that makes his Lu more memorable than the script seems to want to make him. From Hong Kong the two children of the two men who presumably died making this same journey seven years prior set out to try and figure out the fate of their fathers and what made leaving them behind worth it. Naturally, this trip leads to another would-be engaging action sequence were it not for the audience having to suspend their belief not in the physics of how far Croft can jump, but more in the fact that it doesn't feel like either of these characters are ever in any real, tangible danger-at least in this sequence. Granted, there were no doubt large tanks of water used in order to accomplish this sequence, but for a guy that directed a micro-budget movie about an 85-meter high violent tsunami one would imagine this would be the most thrilling sequence of the movie rather than the least of what Tomb Raider has to offer.

Lara Croft quickly adapts to her ever-changing scenery and circumstances in Tomb Raider.
Photo by Ilze Kitshoff - © 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.
This is all to say that by the time we reach Yamati and are introduced to the exiled Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) AKA the pre-determined baddie even though we come to find out the guy is really just a dad who wants to get back home to his kids, but can't until this dead queen's soul is unleashed, that we've already been delivered a handful of moments that have sent us back and forth on whether we're in for the long haul with this franchise or not. Over the course of the next hour or so it only becomes more and more clear that whatever Uthaug was going to bring to the material was brought in the first half of the film as the second is a series of more than competent, but ultimately routine action sequences where Vikander's determined title character makes her way through gunfire and booby traps in hopes of beating her newly sworn enemy to the punch. It's not hard to see where the story is going and worse, it's not hard to know where the franchise hopes to go should this re-introduction make enough money. The worst part of this though is the fact the screenplay was co-written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet in her first writing credit ever. How she landed such a big job for her first gig remains to be seen as she is now also writing the most current draft of Captain Marvel as well as having a handful of other major upcoming projects on her iMDB page. This idea that an up-and-coming female voice landing all these major jobs in Hollywood would first be glimpsed with this new Tomb Raider film was maybe the most exciting aspect of a Tomb Raider re-boot, but that is what also makes this so disappointing as there is no singular voice to be heard when it comes to Robertson-Dworet and Uthaug's collaboration as Tomb Raider more or less hits the beats we expect it to, takes us through the motions just as we expect it to, and then lands with a quick post-title card shot of Vikander looking more like the iconic images of Croft than she has the entire film. So yeah, Tomb Raider is one of those prequels where, by the end the audience gets a glimpse at the hero they know and love, but unfortunately this movie isn't good enough to convince everyone they needed to see how Lara Croft became Lara Croft. Coming from the perspective of someone who doesn't really play video games and has never played a Tomb Raider game, I could care less what is faithful and what isn't; all I really want is a good movie and while Tomb Raider is passable with a few moments that hint at what might have been it is largely an exercise in adequacy made all the worse by those passing opportunities where Uthaug, Robertson-Dworet, and team could have really lent this some style and flavor.