Saturday, 28 July 2018

Tomb Raider (2018) - Movie Review

The plot: Bike courier Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), still coming to terms with the disappearance of her father Richard (Dominic West), is put in a position where she must take control of the family business. However, when she discovers that her father may still be alive, searching for the resting place of Japanese queen and sorceress Himiko, she sets out for the island of Yamatai to find him. But between the shadowy organization also looking for Himiko, and the perilous obstacles that stand between her and the island, she will have to keep her wits about her if she plans on making it back alive.

Vikander can now safely add ‘action lead’ to her list of accomplishments over the last few years with this one. Balancing quiet assertion with a snappy sense of humour, she ends up owning a lot of the screen time she’s given. For an origin story, this is a good thing, but it’s also an unfortunate side effect of the rest of the cast that she ends up shining as well as she does here. As fun as some of the supporting cast can be, like Nick Frost’s pawn shop proprietor or Hannah John-Kamen as Croft’s bestie who makes for some nice interactions early on, most of the cast here doesn’t make much of an impact. West as Lara’s father basically has only that one familial connection as his character, with some token showings of stir-crazy that don’t really add too much, Derek Jacobi and Kristin Scott Thomas as two associates of Richard’s company act mainly as walking exposition engines and little else, and Walton Goggins underperforms yet again as the main villain here. He’s definitely trying to hit that sweet spot of hateable and watchable that makes for good screen antagonists, but he still suffers from the same lack of push as the majority of the actors here. Oh, and Daniel Wu as the drunken sailor that Lara befriends is less human and more wisp of dialogue.
Going for an all-out reboot of the Tomb Raider films was probably the best foot forward this production could have taken because, quite frankly, the Angelina Jolie movies are not that good. Very much a product of their time, with all the subpar CGI and aggressively silly action scenes to fit with the early-2000’s aesthetic it was built from, it’s similar to this film only in that Jolie in the lead role was also the main positive of those films… apart from that accent, at any rate. Of course, direct comparisons between Vikander and Jolie seems a bit foolish, given that they’re both vastly different takes on vastly different points of the character’s history. Taking its cues from the more Tomb Raider games, this film goes for a far grittier and grounded take on Lara Croft’s brand of international spelunking, and the end result is actually quite palatable. Through Roar Uthaug’s direction and cinematography from George Richardson (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eddie The Eagle), the film’s approach to action beats makes for some reasonably tense and wincing throwdowns. From the fist fights to the shoot-outs to Lara’s showings of archery (bow-wielding female heroes; not gonna lie, between this and The Hunger Games, that's a trend I can get behind), it’s thrilling where it needs to be and the substantially lower amount of CGI compared to the earlier films make them more appealing to watch unfold.
Of course, all of this is in service to a story that, truth be told, isn’t all that fleshed-out. It still operates on the same fixation on parental figures that have become a hallmark of this series, and Lara’s father being as bland as he is basically makes this come across like Lara’s want to find her father is the only thing driving her. As problematic as Jolie’s hyper-sexualized version of the character was, she still had a noticeable drive to discover and unearth the past. This could be excused by the aforementioned different in the personal timelines, seeing as this shows Lara right at the start of the story audiences are familiar with, but it still doesn’t do the character herself any favours.
This also affects the action beats in places, in that Lara ends up spending perhaps too much time getting thrown around and put into peril. Part of me wants to question how good this works as a female-led action flick with that in mind… except it ends up working as far as connecting with a more grounded production like this. We’re not watching Lara get put into situations where she ends up winning the day through sheer luck (or, more realistically, lazy writing); instead, we’re watching Lara put into increasingly dire situations and, largely through no-one’s will but her own, she manages to survive. Not unscathed, but survive. Considering my preference for this as opposed to the near-invincible action heroes of yore, this ends up evening out into a decent depiction.
But what about this film’s place as far as a video game adaptation? I mean, this came out shortly before the box-office powder keg that is Rampage, a film that showed irrefutably that this sub-genre still had some life in it; do we get the same here? Well, aside mentioned above, its connection to the more recent games is rather apparent, which not only gives it a separate identity from the earlier films but also gave the film a good bedrock to work from. Beyond that, along with the fight scenes and rather grim story details, this seems to have the more surface-level elements down pat. We got the athletic problem-solving, we got the jumping puzzles, we got touches of survival tactics and even some improvisational thinking; far as game mechanics go, this does pretty well at bringing the interactive to a non-interactive space.
Going further than that, though, this also feels in line with the mindset that went into crafting the story of the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot. Novelist Rhianna Pratchett, who co-wrote the 2013 game as well as solo writing the sequel Rise Of The Tomb Raider, has said in interviews that she reconstructed Lara in the vein of badass female action heroes like Ripley from Aliens and Sarah Connor from Terminator; the kind of heroes that showed men weren't the only ones who could kick arse and take names. Given this film’s approach to not only Lara’s feminity but also how that plays into the larger plot concerning the Japanese sorceress everyone is digging to find (which ends up taking a surprisingly solid turn near the end), this feels like it was meant to create a bankable feminine hero cut from the same cloth. I’ve mentioned enough times on here how much I appreciate diverse representation in cinema, and there’s more than enough room in the action genre for female leads, and Vikander’s performance combined with the aesthetic around her make this feel genuine and something worth appreciating.
All in all, this is a pretty decent video game flick and a solid actioner in its own right. The acting has its share of dull points and the story itself is rather cut-and-dry in a lot of areas, but when it comes to the important aspects, namely the main performance by Alicia Vikander, the action scenes and the tone that threads them together, this manages to get a surprising amount of engagement out of a story that most audiences left in the dust over a decade ago. It manages to completely bypass the egregiously obnoxious tone of the 2001 film, and it has enough of its own identity to avoid falling through the cracks like Cradle Of Life did, so as far as seeing Lara Croft on the big screen, this is as good as it gets for the time being. With how embarrassingly open-ended this film ends up being, they’re certainly trying to make this into a series… and if they keep in-step with this first offering, I’m more than willing to give that idea a chance.
It ranks higher than The Polka King, as this film not only features a more grounded protagonist whose flaws don’t need to be glossed over to make the story work, the overall package is just more entertaining as a complete film. However, as good as this is for the piece of refreshingly dark action that it is, it still doesn’t measure up to the flawed but ultimately more rewarding chops of Sicario: Day Of The Soldado.

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