And so the quest continues for a decent film adaptation of a beloved video game property. In 2016 we had Assassin’s Creed, which showed potential, but then turned out to be a stupider, fightier version of The Da Vinci Code. This year we’ve had Rampage, the Dwayne Johnson versus giant animals film, which wasn’t anywhere near as stupid and fighty as it should have been. Now the quest is once again with the Tomb Raider herself, Lara Croft, rebooted and restyled for a new generation.
The previous Tomb Raider films weren’t exactly classics, but were very watchable thanks largely to Angelina Jolie’s wonderfully camp and charismatic turn as the arse-kicking aristocrat. Tasked with bringing some millennial flavour to proceedings, Oscar winning actress Alicia Vikander is the new Lara Croft, in this grittier and more realistic take on the character. Gone are the giant manor and servants, we instead meet Lara scraping by in trendy East London, working as a bike courier, and generally being all young and cool.
The daughter of Lord Richard Croft – who disappeared on an expedition many years ago – Lara is admirably trying to make her own way in the world when her father’s former business partner informs her that if she does not claim her inheritance soon, the vast estate will be sold off. Not wanting this to happen, she accepts and returns to her family home. In her father’s old study she discovers a pre-recorded message from him, one of those “if you’re watching this, then I didn’t make it” kind of videos. He tells her that he was researching the legend of Himiko, a witch queen from the mythical island of Yamatai, said to be cursed with apocalyptic power. He urges Lara to destroy his research before anyone else finds it, but she sees this as the chance to solve the mystery of his disappearance.
Following a series of clues found in her father’s work, Lara is soon off on a globe trotting, and yes you guessed it, tomb raiding adventure. Now, there is something about this film we need to talk about straight away, and it rhymes with shmindiana shmones. It borrows heavily from all the Indiana Jones films, almost to the point of parody. Now in its defence you could easily ask the question ‘how on earth can you make a film where the MacGuffin is supernatural archaeology and it not evoke Indy?’ Good point. But Tomb Raider really pushes it. It pushes it down into the Chasm (Well) of Souls, through a temple of doom, sends Lara off on her father’s last crusade, and then pushes her off the edge of a bloody waterfall a la Crystal Skull. Just in case you were wondering if it’s a bit derivative.
The action is slick enough, and relentlessly paced, courtesy of Norwegian director (the superbly named) Roar Uthaug, making the most of the $100m budget. However, it’s never exhilarating enough to make you forget that the characters are lifeless and the plot is just one adventure movie trope after another.
It’s does have a few ticks in the pro column however. Walton Goggins is given one of the more interesting villain roles in recent years, in that he’s not really a villain at all. He’s merely an employee, trapped on an island, away from his family and unable to leave until he has completed his job. Yes his job involves doing some despicable shit, but what I like about him is that he’d rather not be there. I think most people in full time employment will find that very relatable. Except for you know, when he’s murdering people.
As for Vikander, she gives us something we’ve not seen before in this character. There’s a fallibility to her that wasn’t there with Angelina Jolie. Vikander is plucky and athletic and up for a scrap, but crucially isn’t really good in one, whereas Jolie was practically superhuman. This Lady Croft is more about solving clues than defying the laws of physics with her derring-do.
When all is said and done with the film, it has essentially spent two hours of your time giving you an origin story for one of the most recognisable pop culture icons of the last twenty years. We really didn’t need the refresher. The films coda scrambles around to set up an inevitable sequel, which already seems potentially more interesting than what we’ve just watched. Here’s hoping. In the meantime, the quest for a good video-game-movie goes on.
The blu-ray release comes with a selection of short documentaries for your viewing pleasure. The first is an interesting look at the evolution of Lara Croft from a video game character to one of the most enduringly popular characters in pop culture history. If you are one of those people fascinated by movie star diets and workout regimes, then there is a short featurette just for you, looking at how Vikander achieved that ridiculous physique for the film. There are also a couple of short making-of pieces featuring interviews with the cast and crew.
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Walton Goggins, Dominic West, Daniel Wu Director: Roar Uthaug Writer: Geneva Robertson-Dworet & Alastair Siddons Released By: Warner Home Video Certificate: 12 Duration: 118 mins Release Date: 16th July 2018