(2018—Director: Roar Uthaug)
— by Renard N. Bansale —
(out of 5 stars)
Potential spoilers below
Since its debut in 1996, the Tomb Raider franchise has become a mainstay in action adventure gaming, selling 63 million copies worldwide and earning much critical acclaim along the way. One of the fruits of its success were two successful, though critically-mixed, cinematic adaptations starring Angelina Jolie in 2001 and 2003. Intended at first as a trilogy, the commercial underperformance of the 2003 sequel and Ms. Jolie’s choice to not reprise the lead role of Lara Croft a third time left the film franchise in limbo. Once the reboot dropped a decade later into the hands of Norwegian director Roar Uthaug (making his English language debut) and Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander taking over as Lara Croft, no one doubted that this Tomb Raider would continue the trend of low-grade video game adaptations on the silver screen.
Seven years have passed since the disappearance of business mogul Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West). His college-aged daughter, the reckless and independent Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), struggles to make ends meet as a bike courier and aspiring mixed martial arts fighter. At the insistence of her father’s former business partner Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), Lara claims her father’s estate as inheritance. Lara gains access to her father’s secret office, where she learns that her father’s last known activities were in search of the tomb of Himiko, the fabled queen of the small island of Yamatai who held a devastating power over life and death.
Lara goes against her father’s pre-recorded instructions to burn his research. She recruits Hong Kong native Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), captain of the ship Endurance, to take her to Yamatai, where she might learn more of her father’s ultimate fate. Little do Lara and Lu Ren know that a shadowy militant group led by the cold-blooded Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) has already set camp at Yamatai. Vogel and his team are desperate for information to help them finally uncover Himiko’s tomb and Lord Croft’s research, now in the hands of Croft’s daughter who is heading for the island, is just what they need.
Video game adaptations remain a puzzle to Hollywood. Hopeless (so far) in replacing the interactivity of the original medium with a compelling big screen narrative, video game adaptations end up ranging between two extremes: On one side, such movies amount to horrible, infamous, and low-grade garbage that would take gallons of alcohol to reach a “so bad it’s good” level of amusement. On the other side, the movies settle for bland and forgettable action diversion. The 2018 Tomb Raider film falls under the latter, unaided by a recent Oscar-winner (star Alicia Vikander) in her genuine attempt to break into lucrative blockbuster cinema and a foreign director (Norway’s Roar Uthaug) whose fair reputation in his native land fails to transfer to English-speaking audiences, rendering Uthaug into an ordinary director-for-hire. These two backgrounds often spell disappointment for any film.
Apart from a decent shipwreck scene and a noteworthy sequence that begins with a downed plane on top of a waterfall and ends with a wooden stake in an abdomen, the screenplay by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons (from a story by Robertson-Dworet and Evan Daugherty) lacks in serious thrills and twists. The predictable script fails to convey the complexity of its part-truth, part-fiction archaeology. In particular, Roar Uthaug’s drab, dark, and muddy direction in the later half of Tomb Raider all but mutes any wonder associated with the archaeology that Indiana Jones, 1999’s The Mummy, and even the Angelina Jolie-starring Tomb Raider movies possessed.
Ms. Vikander’s gritty yet elegant take on Lara Croft shows promise throughout. With the rest of the film doing Ms. Vikander a disservice, however, her new version of Lara falls short of replacing Jolie’s tantalizing incarnation in the first two films. Beyond Ms. Vikander, Tomb Raider underutilises the rest of the cast. Dominic West acquits himself as best as he can to the absentee father material given to him, whereas the story outright forgets Daniel Wu once the action shifts to inside the tomb. Walton Goggins’ Vogel disappoints after his entertaining appearances in 2012’s Django Unchained and 2015’s The Hateful Eight, both from writer-director Quentin Tarantino. Tomb Raider rushes Goggins’ introductory scene, minimizing his cold-hearted intimidation, and the attempt to develop his villain by mentioning how he has two daughters comes off as sloppy.
It never benefits an artistic medium for its devotees to lose hope in a particular genre and it appears that the video game adaptation may run out of hope in the near future. Such a fate does not have to befall the cinematic Tomb Raider franchise. Even a poor, origin-centered first installment grants freedom for future sequels to just focus on the adventure at hand and further character development with ease. Despite its serious flaws, I still hope in this way for the follow-up to 2016’s Warcraft and, should it manage a small profit, I also hope in this way for the possible follow-up to Tomb Raider. Until then, I leave Ms. Vikander and director Uthaug to spend the next few years wisely and to prepare for the day when they can both prove the worth of a Tomb Raider reboot franchise to audiences once more.
(Parental Note: Tomb Raider has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA “for sequences of violence and action, and for some language”. It has also been rated 12A by the BBFC for “moderate violence,” “threat,” and “injury detail”, and rated A-III (Adults and older adolescents) by the Catholic News Service for containing “occult themes, much harsh violence with some gore, a few gruesome images, at least one use of profanity and a couple of milder oaths, a stifled rough term, and about a half-dozen crude words.”)
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature-film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard is currently pursuing his M.A. in Biblical Theology (Catechetical track) at JPCatholic after graduating from the school in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting).
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.