"You shouldn't have come here, but I'm glad that you did."
Video game movies; are there any three words that evoke as much scepticism as that? It really does seem that no matter what approach filmmakers take to translating the medium of video games to film they seem to fall short. Whether it’s the overly grim and joyless tone of ‘Assassin’s Creed’ or the gloriously over the top style of the ‘Mortal Combat’ series, there just seems to be something lacking. Another ludicrously flamboyant entry is the original attempt to adapt the Lara Croft series, so perhaps a more grounded reboot can yield some positive results.
Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer who vanished years earlier. Hoping to solve the mystery of her father's disappearance, Croft embarks on a perilous journey to his last-known destination, a fabled tomb on a mythical island somewhere off the coast of Japan.
So it’s no secret that the original on screen version of the famous game series was basically the best Jon Woo movie that Jon Woo didn’t actualy make. As Roger Ebert put it in his original review “the movie elevates goofiness to an art form”. It ridiculous and over the top but it would be a blatant lie to say it isn’t entertaining. It also fits in fairly well with the established tone of the video games on which it is based. Whereas this 2018 movie clearly borrows more from the 2013 reboot of the game series, which tries to re-contextualise Lara as being more than just a blank sex object.
If that is the main goal of ‘Tomb Raider’ then it does a decent job for the most part. It avoids making any broad characterisations regarding its protagonist and actually takes time to establish a cohesive arc that you can trace throughout the movie. Though in terms of introducing her the film does stray into focussing more on what Lara isn’t rather than what she actually is, for the most part they create a decent impression that conveys a strong sense of characterisation. Lara does feel like a fully developed character who I would genuinely be interested in seeing undertake more adventures should this franchise actually get off the ground.
It helps that in Alicia Vikander the filmmakers have found an excellent actor to embody the character while also subtly redefining her. Vikander fills the broad conception the viewers will have of Lara Croft, and occasionally indulges in the iconography around the character, but her performance also manages to subvert a lot of expectations regarding the character. She projects this sense of solidarity but at the same time isn’t invulnerable to a point where the character is impossible to relate it. She strengthens her in one sense so as to make the character more rounded but also shows a hint of vulnerability to evoke a sense of empathy.
But when the action does kick into gear it’s suitably rendered. The stunt work is particularly excellent and helps to give a sense of weight to each set piece. There are some questionable CGI backdrops but at least the film compensates by having a clear and concise geography to each environment so it’s never difficult to pinpoint who and where everyone is. There’s also a great sense of escalation to the way the actions scenes are orchestrated throughout the movie. Rather than jumping straight into giant robots, bikers on wired and magical stone guards, it actually establishes a consistent tone and then gradually builds up the action to a satisfying third act.
Another pleasing aspect of the action is how director Roar Uthaug uses a particularly kinetic perspective to display it. It mimics a video game in the way the camera moves but also plays into the strengths of film that gives the movie a cinematic edge above other video game adaptations. All in all, it’s a method I would like to see paired up with a more involving plot. Between the direction and Vikander’s performance, ‘Tomb Raider’ could yield a lot of potential in the future because while this movie isn’t particularly strong, it establishes a firm precedent for any potential sequels.
A problematic plot elevated by some decent directing, the real standout of ‘Tomb Raider’ is Vikander simultaneously embodying and reinventing the mythos of Lara Croft in a worthwhile performance.