Movie Review: “Tomb Raider” – A Tomb is Raided

Written by Jeremiah Greville March 25, 2018

Tomb Raider - Alicia Vikander

We all know the deal with video game movies by now. They’re mostly cheap, mindless action romps that fail to catch the spirit and appeal of their source material. It’s a running gag for film fans at this point to guess which movie will break the streak. Tomb Raider has some advantages in this regard: a down-to-earth reboot and two previous film successes. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t fully succeed. While it’s not bad, it’s certainly not great, and the end result is once again a mindless action romp. However, that’s not the worst thing in the world. Tomb Raider provides a solid foundation for a franchise reboot, and a terrific new lead in Alicia Vikander.

Tomb Raider stars Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft, an orphaned heiress searching for her missing father. It’s loosely based on the 2013 video game of the same name, and is a gritty reboot of the original adventure franchise. It has nothing to do with the Angelina Jolie-led Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) or it’s sequel, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life (2003). Dominic West plays her father, Lord Richard Croft, while Walton Goggins plays the villainous Mathias Vogel. The plot sees Lara facing off against Vogel on a mysterious island, in search of an ancient treasure. Daniel Wu also stars as Lu Ren, Lara’s ally and ship captain.

“I’m just not that kind of Croft.”

Alicia Vikander’s very first scene in the film is a mixed martial arts sparring match, and yeah—that girl has all of the abs. It’s also, refreshingly, the only scene in the film that comes close to the male gaze. And frankly, I don’t even think it does. Tomb Raider avoids a lot of sexualization by focusing on Lara as a character and not an object. Compared to the way Angelina Jolie was treated in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), the difference is night and day. Director Roar Uthaug avoids the pitfalls of framing Vikander as a ‘pretty’ object in every scene—there’s none of the lingering beatific close-ups that plague many female characters in film. Vikander’s Croft is shot and presented the same as everyone else in Tomb Raider.

Tomb Raider (2018)

I had a nagging sense while watching Tomb Raider that Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft was too “cool”, for lack of a better word. She’s not traditionally feminine, she spends her time fighting and biking, and she overcomes injuries almost instantly. She seems overly perfect—from a MALE point of view. The reason this nagged at me is that the ‘cool girl’ trope is often a way for men to pit women against each other. It’s a subtle way of saying you hate women when you say to a girl she’s ‘not like the others’. Women are allowed to be tough or traditionally feminine, or both. Lara has some emotionally-charged scenes to help somewhat balance out the action scenes. But it all boils down to this: Lara Croft is really a female Vin Diesel. He’s always the coolest, toughest, most skilled guy in his films, and so is she though in this story we see her grow into the action hero we expect. When you realize that Lara Croft is a gender-swapped Vin Diesel, the film suddenly clicks into place.

“It’s in your blood.”

The irony, of course, is that by comparing Vikander’s Croft to Vin Diesel, I’m also somewhat guilty of stereotyping Lara. But to hammer this point home, I mean that she’s a general action hero archetype. She is the same incredibly skilled, overly determined, impossibly perfect action hero we’ve seen a thousand times. Yes, she is a ‘cool girl’, but not as a slight to other women, just as another franchise action lead. And to make a long story short: that’s great. Vikander’s Croft is the best thing about this film, and the real reason this franchise has shot at succeeding beyond this first outing. She’s believable and engaging, and I look forward to seeing what else she can do.

Tomb Raider (2018)

Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is a mixed bag. The whole thing is shot in a shaky hand-cam style that’s completely unnecessary and doesn’t add anything to the film. This means that while several of the chase sequences are thrilling, most of the fight scenes are unintelligible messes. I couldn’t tell you what happened in that opening mixed martial arts fight, other than who won, and it’s same for every fight after that. They’re so poorly shot and edited it’s almost embarrassing. And a shipwreck scene at the end of Act 1 was so frenetically put together that this film should come with a seizure warning. No joke here—I actually had to turn away from the screen, it was THAT bad. I don’t suffer from seizures, but if you do, be warned.

“Finally, a Croft with some sense.”

But the few chases are well done. An early film bike chase is a joy to watch, as is an outlandish mid-film escape sequence. The rest of the film is the standard mix of shootouts and traps and puzzle elements you’ve come to expect. Tomb Raider is as faithful to the 2013 video game as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was to the others. Yes, she’s brilliant, but no, this time she’s not always the expert. This is an origin story featuring a younger, untested Lara Croft and it shows. But luckily, her inexperience makes her a more accessible and human character. Finally, I have to mention Nick Frost’s small role as London pawn-shop owner. It’s a funny little cameo that adds a bit of levity to the production, but doesn’t really amount to much.

Tomb Raider (2018)

In the end, Tomb Raider is a harmless (seizure-inducing sequence notwithstanding) action film that doesn’t really add up to much. The best thing it does is introduce a new franchise-ready Lara Croft. And the worst thing it does is introduce new franchise constraints. To give more away would be a spoiler, but suffice to say it all rests on the sequel(s). There’s very little running and gunning, but a whole lot of Lara jumping and hanging off stuff. Vikander is great, and if you liked the 2013 game you might like this film. But if you’re not a fan of the games or the genre it might be best to skip it altogether. Tomb Raider is back to life, but right now just seems undead.

My Rating: 5.5/10

Tomb Raider (2018) - Poster

 

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About Jeremiah Greville

Jeremiah Greville is a pretty rad beard that's attached itself to a human face. The beard likes movies, television, comic books, and gentle finger rubs. The human likes pizza and sleep. When they work together, they write reviews. Hope you enjoy them!

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