July 2021

Tomb Raider (2018)

DIRECTOR: Roar Uthaug

CAST: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Derek Jacobi


Hollywood has long had a hard time adapting video games to films in ways that make them equally engaging and cinematically satisfying, and while Tomb Raider (an adaptation of the long-running video game series, and a film reboot unconnected to the two past Angelina Jolie films) is more competent than Assassin’s Creed (no great high bar to hurdle), it only provides more ammunition for the argument that a video game is an inherently more interactive and engaging experience than a film based on it can be.  Tomb Raider might be the most faithful game-to-film adaptation yet, but reducing the interactivity of the game to the passivity of watching a preordained movie inherently removes a critical element.  Tomb Raider is an adequate diversion, but there’s something Point A to Point B about its generic and non-innovative narrative that dilutes the excitement.

As fans of the game (or the other movie adaptations) will know, Tomb Raider centers on Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), the young daughter of mysterious wealthy businessman and adventurer Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), who went missing seven years ago and is presumed dead.  Lara is drifting aimlessly, working odd jobs to scrape by and not inheriting her father’s fortune because she refuses to sign the papers officially declaring him dead, until one day she stumbles across a clue that points her toward his final destination.  Tracking down Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), whose own father was one of Richard’s last known contacts, Lara strikes out for a remote uninhabited island off the coast of Japan, where her father was obsessively seeking the hidden tomb of an ancient Japanese “Death Queen” that, according to myth, could unleash a scourge upon mankind.  But others have beaten her there, mercenaries of the Trinity corporation led by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), who are determined to raid the tomb and bring it home to their employers.

The early establishing scenes are arguably more engaging than when we get to the island.  Vikander plays Lara with spunk, there’s a couple reasonably engaging chase scenes that are not related to the main plot (one a bicycle race that feels like it wandered in from Premium Rush, one with Lara pursuing purse snatchers), backstory is related reasonably concisely via some quick flashbacks and exposition, and there’s a little playful chemistry between Lara and Lu Ren.  Alas, once Lara washes up on shore, things quickly turn into a non-interactive video game where Lara navigates the “levels” by being chased around in the woods by henchmen, dangling from a wrecked airplane over a waterfall, and eventually unwillingly escorting Vogel and crew into the tomb.  This sizable third act, while closely referencing elements from the video game, feels like second-rate Indiana Jones.  The Point A to Point B, straightforward action lacks the uncertainty and cliffhanger tension of something like Raiders of the Lost Ark, and there’s a spark missing.  It’s easy to imagine this kind of thing being more engaging when one is sitting in front of a console, controls in hand, guiding Lara’s actions, then watching it unfold in straightforward, unoriginal fashion onscreen.  Nothing really unexpected happens—there’s a couple “surprise twists”, but neither is especially surprising—and the action isn’t anything especially creative.  Like the movie itself, it’s just kind of “there”.

Unsurprisingly, the best thing about Tomb Raider is Alicia Vikander, who seems at home in any genre, from sci-fi (Ex Machina) to period drama (The Danish Girl) to a Jason Bourne movie (2016’s Jason Bourne) and now going into action heroine mode.  She’s a strong, serious actress who makes the role her own enough that Angelina Jolie isn’t missed, and demonstrated her commitment by undergoing a rigorous workout regimen and performing all of her own stunts (her fit, toned body is on display in her introductory scene).  Alas, the movie itself is arguably not worth the dedication she put into it.  No one else makes much of an impression.  The bad guys are one-note and the good guys don’t fare much better.  Daniel Wu gets just enough material to start to establish an effective back-and-forth with Vikander while they’re on the ship, but doesn’t get to do much once they make it onto the island besides supply a token sidekick.  Dominic West is on-hand to provide exposition, and Walton Goggins is only adequate as the generic villain.  Elder respected thespians Kristin Scott-Thomas and Derek Jacobi have walk-on roles.

Viewer reaction to Tomb Raider may vary based on expectations.  It’s probably the most faithful game-to-film adaptation we’ve had thus far, and that may please some aficionados of the game series.  For undemanding action fans, it’s an adequate if forgettable diversion.  Those hoping for something a little more on the level of Indiana Jones might be underwhelmed.  I didn’t go in looking for or reasonably expecting more than a popcorn action flick but even so I found it curiously unengaging, serving up its fair share of action but lacking in genuine tension and excitement.  Maybe this is an inevitable by-product of removing the interactive quality of a video game, but after three movie adaptations, maybe Tomb Raider fans are just better off playing the game.

* * 1/2