By Jack Dignan
I was once an avid video game fan. In fact, I was for a number of years, and one of the first franchises that ever drew me in was the Tomb Raider series; an action adventure that received a highly praised reboot/origin story back in 2013. It’s this origin story that not only redefined the character of Lara Croft for newer players, but it serves as a primary inspiration behind our third on-screen appearance of the character. Forget Angelina Jolie, Lara Croft is back and better than ever… but unfortunately, she still can’t overcome the video game movie curse.
If you’ve seen Jolie’s two previous adaptations, you’ve probably already got a general gist of the character, but this film sets out to retell and redefine her origin story. Lara Craft (now played by Alicia Vikander) left her life of wealth behind after the sudden disappearance and presumed death of her father, Richard Croft (Dominic West). But when forced to sign acceptance of his will, Lara receives a clue, one that could provide closure on where her father vanished. She teams up with Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) and travels across the ocean, following a paper trail that leads her to a mysterious tomb with hidden ties to her father’s past.
While a significant step up over the 2001 adaptation, Tomb Raider still struggles to capture what made these games so fun. Alicia Vikander perfectly encapsulates the essence of this character while making it her own thing, crafting an investing modern hero for a new generation that’s sure to create a lot of new fans. She’s strong, determined, charming and incorporates an emotional pull that invests you somewhat in her character’s arc, as predictable as it ends up being. Sure, for whatever reason, they use a near-identical screaming noise every time Lara finds herself in pain, but it doesn’t undermine the quality and fierceness of her performance.
Vikander’s Lara Croft finds herself battling against the villainous Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). As an actor, Goggins continues to impress. His knack for dark, intimidating characters that you’re never sure if you can trust or not continues. It’s just a shame that the character written for him is severely underdeveloped. You don’t get an understanding of his reasoning or determination, and all of his lines are force-fed generic bad guy lines you’ve heard in every single subpar action flick. Goggins does his best to make the material work, and he has the basics for what could be a fascinating villain, but they never explore anything outside of his inherent evilness.
And sadly, that issue carries over into the whole film. Objectively speaking, this film is terrible. Sure, I had fun with it from time to time, but it’s not good. It’s the most basic, generic version of this story that you could’ve told, following a paint by number plot that’s lacking in bite and underutilizing the whole raiding of tombs aspect that you’d expect in a film called Tomb Raider. The third act is fun, but it should’ve come a lot sooner than it did. Most of this film is a survival story with flickers of Indiana Jones, when the Indiana Jones-ness is what should’ve been put in the forefront.
Some of the action sequences during these first two acts sound exciting on paper, some even taken straight out of the games, but when translated and executed on the big screen, they don’t work as well. Despite having the single greatest name I’ve ever heard, director Roar Uthag enlists a fast-cutting, multi-shot style that I absolutely despise. Sure, it’s not Taken 3 levels of bad, but it’s all very mind numbing, and the visual effects look truly awful. When you can see the green outline surrounding each character in literally every action set piece, you know you need a little more time spent in post-production.
Honestly, while this isn’t a fantastic film, there is some fun to be had. For those seeking a run of the mill adventure epic with a strong female lead and some interesting concepts that could’ve been used far more effectively in the hands of more competent writers or directors, this film is for you. A sequel is set up in the film’s final minutes, and it’s one that I’d still be curious to see. There remains potential for this film franchise. While not the strongest start, a follow-up could be the film to finally break the video game movie curse.
2 1/2 Stars
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