Tuesday, July 10, 2018

In short: Tomb Raider (2018)

Young and adventurous Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) follows the traces of her long missing action archaeologist father (Dominic West). Eventually she teams up with Chinese boat captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) and ends up on an uncharted island where an evil organization is searching for the tomb of the same Japanese death goddess her father was obsessed with.

This is one of the recent major mainstream Hollywood films I honestly wish I would have enjoyed more. I do like the approach the film shares with the last couple of Tomb Rider videogames to tone the exploitation factor down quite a bit from the incessant leer of the Angelina Jolie films. I also think Alicia Vikander turns out to be a fine choice for the more human version of Lara Croft; and I enjoyed a couple of director Roar Uthaug’s Norwegian films (particularly the genre-wise pretty relevant Escape) quite a bit.

Unfortunately, Uthaug’s film also takes some of the less great elements of the current of Tomb Raider games on board. There is the pretty damn tedious attempt at providing what is still a superhumanly capable pulp heroine with a “relatable background”, so there is a whole slew of scenes about Lara’s tragic Daddy problems to go through, which is about as interesting and exciting as it sounds, and also so badly written it does nothing at all to make our heroine more relatable, but only quite a bit more boring than she needs to be. I’d suggest if you have a character who will eventually get around to have biggish pulpy adventures, trying to give her a believably human background is at best unnecessary, at worst, as it is here, a hindrance to the film ever actually getting around to showing the audience what it actually came to see the character do. I believe what I’m saying is that, instead of daddy issues, I’d rather have seen some Tomb Raiding.

Alas, the first and only tomb to be raided here (unless you count the hidden room in Daddy’s crypt, though you might also count it as an attempt by the film to go all metaphorical on us) pops up 74 minutes into the movie. Of course, this reluctance to get to the actual meat the title promises is another weakness the film shares with the newer videogames. Instead of tomb raiding, we get more daddy issues, a pretty boring villain (Walton Goggins), and a handful of survivalist action sequences. I suspect these scenes are why Uthaug was hired in the first place, but compared to the much cheaper, not overly CGI-laden Escape, they are not terribly good, and demonstrate a curious inability to create action sequences that take place in what feels like actual physical spaces; they are indeed much less convincing than those in the videogames. It’s possible a degree of inexperience of the director with CGI is in part responsible here, but then, a lot of blockbusters now are directed by people who have never made green screen heavy film before and do not suffer from this.

It’s certainly still a watchable enough film – this is no Cruise-Mummy – but it is neither the wild, female-lead pulp adventure of my dreams nor the survivalist yet emotionally gripping thriller with some surprise rage zombie-ism the production company was probably aiming for.

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