By: Hawk Ripjaw (Six Pack) –
Tomb Raider is what happens when you take a campy character, try to make her realistic, but still don’t want to move too far away from that camp while also grounding the movie in realism.
Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), instead of being a ridiculously accentuated billionaire explorer, is a bike courier in London working paycheck to paycheck. Her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), has been missing since she was a child and Lara refuses to accept his death and inherit his estate, which is why she’s poor. When she eventually decides to do so, a puzzle box leads her to a secret room with a camcorder video (apparently having held its charge for at least a decade) from her father that reveals that he was an explorer in secret. He’d been searching for the ancient power of a Japanese Queen named Himiko to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Himiko is cursed, and if her tomb were to be opened, the curse would be unleashed on the world, causing the deaths of millions. In the video, he asks that Lara destroy his research so that no one can find and unleash the curse.
Instead, Lara decides to go to the island the research points to, and travels to Hong Kong to get her father’s boat captain Lu Ren to take her there. Instead, he finds Lu Ren’s son, also named Lu Ren (Daniel Wu). He initially refuses to take her based on the fact that they will almost certainly be shipwrecked immediately upon getting close to the island. Lara convinces him that money is awesome even if you’re dead, so they depart but are shipwrecked immediately upon getting close to the island.
Once on land, Lara and Lu are captured by Mattias Vogel (Walton Goggins, criminally restrained), who claims to have killed Lara’s father and has a crew working around the clock to find the tomb of Himiko for the evil corporation he works for. Lara decides to fight back and find a way off the island.
It’s often noted that in the 2013 game, during an early scene in which Lara has to kill a thug in self-defense, it takes roughly .003 seconds for Lara to go from “Guns are scary and killing is traumatizing” to becoming the Grim Reaper of Murder Island and sending its mercenary population density into a free-fall. It’s not quite as abrupt here but it’s still kind of funny that all Lara needs is her first taste of blood develop superhuman accuracy with the bow.
The rebooted video games, and this adaptation, completely ditch the sexual, “har har, boobies” version of Lara that existed in the games and films prior to 2013. That leaves plenty of room for a more interesting, human Lara (well, maybe just human). Vikander does her best with the character, especially in the more physical action scenes and the determination she shows in pushing through the consistent perils she faces. There is some pretty janky CGI in several of these action sequences (ironically made really obvious in IMAX), but for the most part these are well-shot and fairly exciting.
Apart from Vikander, most of the performances were surprisingly strong, and each of the star players give the best performance they can with the script they’re given.
But oh man, is that script awful.
You might as well slap a Wal-Mart “Great Value” sticker on this bad boy, because it is generic.
Here are just a couple of lines of dialogue:
“If you’re watching this, that means I’m dead.”
“You messed with the wrong family!”
[about to kill Lara] “Give your father my regards.”
“Give them yourself!”
The characters, including Croft, are all very shallowly written with very little motivation beyond what you would get from a Suicide Squad-style character card (god forbid) and little else. One of the biggest offenders is Vogel, who mentions a few times that he wants to get back to his family. This is not expanded upon, nor is it explained why a man who claims to want to spend time with his family would leave them for several years with no way of contacting them. He also tells Lara that he killed her father, murders a laborer for coughing, and threatens violence against Lara and her friend multiple times. Ostensibly the family angle is to give Vogel a more sympathetic goal, but when every other aspect of his character involves being the biggest asshole of all time, it immediately fails to be compelling.
Apart from him, Lu Ren is a fun buddy for Lara and little else, and Papa Croft is just a generic father character with inspirational nuggets of wisdom. There’s no depth to any of them besides what the script is asking them to have in that moment.
This is an origin story for Lara Croft, but a good origin story is predicated on Croft being an interesting character. The rebooted game was stellar for the way it introduced a new vision of Lara that was interesting for reasons that didn’t even care about her cup size. It featured a gritty, violent setting for her to break free of her comfortable and curious origins and fight her way off an island that was completely stacked against her. That intense, focused goal is diluted here in favor of a generic MacGuffin that isn’t nearly as interesting, and Lara never really overcomes much at all: she gets attacked, sometimes barely survives, other times has to be rescued by someone else. No one’s going to find a Mary Sue compelling, but it’s even less engaging when the plot actively moves the goalpost every time its main character starts to be cool.
**light spoilers follow**
It might be one of the most irritatingly predictable movies to release in recent memory. Is Lara going to almost win a biking game in the opening act but mess up and hit something because she thinks about her dead father? Probably. Is the father not actually dead? You can count on it (this one’s not even a spoiler, there’s no way they would cast Dominic West just for a couple of flashbacks). Is there an older guardian figure that has sinister motives? Most definitely. It gets worse from there, particularly when it starts to lift concepts wholesale from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. At this point it becomes laughably easy to spot major plot points coming from a mile away, as if that wasn’t the case already.
Even though this is a reboot, the character of Lara Croft is an inherently silly one. She’s a wealthy explorer that solves unreasonably complicated puzzles and fights dinosaurs sometimes to stop ancient curses from falling into the wrong hands. This movie cherry picks a couple of those concepts and tries to tell us a serious adventure story with a straight face. This causes a frustrating dissonance in tone and—I never thought I’d admit this—makes one yearn for the idiotic post-90s flavor of the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movies. As legitimately terrible as those films are, they were consistent and confident in tone.
Most egregiously, Tomb Raider is just boring, screeching to an absolute halt in between the action sequences. These scenes of exposition and dialogue mostly just feel like filler that you have to sit through before getting to the next action beat. The entire first hour is so disastrously boring I wanted to walk out. If this were just some throwaway action flick, it wouldn’t be nearly as unforgivable. But the new version of Lara Croft is a strong character deserving of of something far better than what she’s given here.
Tomb Raider is dumb, but not dumb enough to be fun. It’s not smart enough to be engaging, and not exciting enough to be memorable. Ultimately, that’s the most irritating sort of movie, but Tomb Raider’s biggest problem is overwhelmingly in the terrible, derivative script that takes a genuinely interesting character and throws her in the back of a windowless van careening straight into narrative mediocrity. As promising as Tomb Raider looked after the second trailer, it just doesn’t deliver on a fun or exciting story. It’s disappointing–and that’s even worse than being outright bad, which it is anyway.
Tomb Raider (2018) Movie Drinking Game
Do a Shot: for every setpiece lifted straight from the 2013 video game.
Take a Drink: for every plot element or setpiece borrowed from Indiana Jones.
Do a Shot: for every shot of Lara running.
Take a Drink: for every time Lara survives a violent fall and is fine a scene later.
Take a Drink: whenever Vogel pulls a gun on someone.