Director: Roar Uthaug
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Alexandre Willaume
MPAA Rating: (for sequences of violence and action, and for some language)
Running Time: 1:58
Release Date: 3/16/18
Review by Mark Dujsik | March 15, 2018
The thinking behind Tomb Raider is strange: cast an accomplished and talented actress as Lara Croft, the hero of a series of video games, and provide the character with an overhaul, which focuses primarily on her more-human and less-hero side (a move that the video games made a few years back), but then give the performer and the character a relatively thankless role in their own movie once the action begins. It's not that Lara and star Alicia Vikander are useless here. There's barely a scene in the movie in which the character and the star aren't of primary focus, but the movie does ultimately reduce Lara in a variety of ways by the time the credits roll.
Some of these ways are subtle, such as how she becomes a heartless killer almost instantaneously after surviving a brutal attack, killing her attacker, and briefly facing the remorse of her actions. Some of them are part of the plot, such as turning her into a running, leaping, and grunting figure during the movie's assorted action sequences or negating a few significant aspects of her character in the second act by giving her a vital helper. We find ourselves rooting for Lara in the movie's early scenes, which envision her as a strong character who's still capable of defeat under trying circumstances, who hasn't come to terms with a great loss in her life, and who has denied the ease of a massive inheritance in order to find her own way in life.
Vikander's casting here is smart, because she's more than capable of selling us on the character's old ways, which rely on her physicality, and her new ones, which are founded on turning the action hero into a legitimate character. It's also slightly subversive, because she doesn't fit the mold of the Lara of old, whose design in the early games seemed like a transparent and deliberate attempt to appeal to the puberty-driven fantasies of teenage boys.
This, obviously, is not meant as a slight against Vikander in any way. It's just to point out that maybe there is an evolution happening here, in which video games don't need to rely on physically improbable character designs in order to appeal to their audience. Maybe characters do matter, and maybe teenage boys—or men trapped in the mindset of teenage boys—can move past seeing women as mere objects of their fantasies.
Yes, we're really rooting for the new incarnation of Lara here, and it seems as if the filmmakers are, too, for a while. At the beginning, she's a bike courier working in London, training at a local gym, and struggling to pay her bills. Her struggling is unnecessary, since she has a vast fortune awaiting her, if only she signs some legal papers stating that her father Richard (Dominic West), who disappeared without a trace seven years ago, is dead. She has resisted this for obvious reasons, but after some convincing, Lara agrees.
Before signing the papers, though, she receives a puzzle box from her father, which unlocks a riddle, which unlocks a hidden door, which reveals Richard's secret life as a researcher and explorer of the supernatural. Believing she might find out what happened to her father, Lara decides to travel to a hidden island near Japan, where Richard was looking for the tomb of a supposedly supernatural queen of Japan, who could summon death or some nonsense.
In Hong Kong, she enlists the aid of a ship captain named Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), whose own father also disappeared on Richard's expedition. Naturally, there's a villain, named Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), awaiting Lara on the island, and he wants to find the tomb of the death-wielding queen, too.
Given the material, we can accept all of this hooey, even if the screenplay by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons spends a bit too much time explaining and re-explaining the particulars of this MacGuffin (during a prologue, on Lara's trip to the island, and even as the movie's climactic tomb-raiding sequence unfolds). The main plot follows Lara as she tries to escape Vogel and his henchmen (so personality-free that they're all blocked together as "Mercenary" during the credits), before reuniting with her father (putting a stop to Lara's grief and, to a degree, her capacity to act independently) and trying to stop the bad guys.
As a character, Lara essentially becomes stationary once she reaches the island, which is ironic, given that she spends almost the entirety of the rest of the movie in some state of peril. Whether she's careening down a river toward waterfall or making daring jumps on a stranded plane above that waterfall or dodging various booby traps within the death queen's tomb, the Lara for whom we had been rooting is subsequently transformed into a generic action hero. The perils themselves are hindered by either unconvincing effects (the bit with the plane) or a feeling of familiarity (the trap-laden tomb).
With a Lara that continued to develop once the action starts, we might have forgiven the movie its routine, or we might have accepted Lara's shift with action and adventure sequences that didn't feel so rote. Instead, we get the negative side of both elements in Tomb Raider.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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