Hopes have been high for Tomb Raider, the reboot of a potentially very lucrative franchise, largely thanks to the star power of Academy Award winning leading lady Alicia Vikander – but there’s been plenty of cynicism too, as video game-to-movie adaptations have a far from successful track record.
Tomb Raider is loosely based on the recent reboot in the gaming franchise in which Lara is portrayed as vulnerable and reckless, but also intelligent and strong. Her character arc sees gain her strengths and learn from her weaknesses through the progression of the story, and the film has drawn from that aspect very well. Tomb Raider acts as an origin story for this reimagining of Lara, in that her discovery of her potential is the big pay-off for her character.
We follow Lara Croft living in London, refusing to come to terms with her father’s disappearance and suspected death, and therefore unable to sign the papers which will transfer his assets and enormous fortune to her. She is working as a bike courier in the city and struggling for cash due to her stubbornness to deal with her father’s estate.
Upon discovering a clue to her father’s whereabouts from a mysterious Japanese puzzle box, Lara embarks on a journey to an uninhabited island called Yamatai, which is located in the dangerous waters of the Devil’s Sea. Her father had travelled to this island to uncover the tomb of an ancient queen named Himiko, who was known as the Queen of Death – but never returned.
This storyline is fairly close to the 2013 game and one of the stronger aspects of the film. Concise with few unanswered questions, anything that isn’t neatly wrapped up seems to be left in the hopes of a sequel.
The big change to the story is the emphasis put on Richard Croft’s history, Lara’s father, which was not so prominent in the original game. Unfortunately, this takes away from Lara’s progression and makes her independence far less convincing. Flashbacks are used throughout to tell us about Richard, but these are ill-judged, portraying their relationship as damaged and even a bit creepy. What Tomb Raider seems to forget is that Lara’s aim throughout her history has always been to finish what her father started, never to trek around the world in the hope that she could be daddy’s little girl again.
On the plus side, Vikander has proven herself to be more than worthy of filling the boots of Lara Croft, and is the perfect fit for the iconic character. She is arguably the best thing about this film, managing to pull off appearing in almost every scene. There’s lots of dialogue and emotion for her to cover, especially in the first half, and then plenty of action and stunts to perform throughout the remainder – and Vikander does exceptionally well in portraying Lara as a realistic person, not some superhuman who can defy the laws of gravity and seemingly never get hurt, making those stunts feel all the more impressive. Rather than perpetuating the male gaze you might assume with this character, she makes Lara Croft feel believable, strong, and this depth helps make the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy the film that bit easier.
Other big names make an appearance; Dominic West is Richard Croft, Daniel Wu is Lu Ren, the son of an old friend of Lara’s own father and her partner on the island of Yamatai, and Kristin Scott-Thomas also makes an appearance as a business associate of Lara’s father.
Walton Goggins plays the antagonist, Mathias Vogel, a man trapped on Yamatai who’s forced to uncover Himiko’s tomb so as to be able to finally leave. He is sinister enough to let audiences know he is the bad guy, but the motive behind his actions are not explored enough – there’s plenty of room for them to turn up those typical villainous tropes we’d expect in an adventure movie.
Adventure movie this is, and the influence of the most famous adventure franchise of them all – Indiana Jones – is very clear, but Tomb Raider does little to make itself unique. There’s enough action and mysticism to make it a fun watch, but nothing new or unpredictable to take it to the next level. Whilst we’re not expecting them to reinvent the wheel, a little more suspense and anticipation would have gone a long way to make it a bit more thrilling, and help the film stand out from the crowd. At no point do we truly believe that Lara is in jeopardy, and that makes the final act fairly underwhelming.
In terms of direction, it feels like Roar Uthaug (a relative unknown who has only really made films in Norway) might have bitten off more than he can chew with such a big budget. The CGI is disjointed, taking the audience out of the experience of the set pieces now and then – and the set for the entrance to Himiko’s tomb is so obvious, it’s almost as laughable as that Mount Rushmore set in North by Northwest. But, if the film manages to make some money and we get a sequel, a bigger budget and better special effects will hopefully allow for a more polished final cut.
Tomb Raider gets 3 stars – it’s certainly one of the best video game adaptations we’ve seen, and is a fun and engaging watch with a brilliant performance from Alicia Vikander, but falls short when it comes to grit, originality and effects.
Tomb Raider is showing in cinemas now!