TOMB RAIDER is an underwhelming adventure. [Review]
Directed by Roar Uthaug
Screenplay by Geneve Robertson-Dworet & Alastair Siddons
Based on Tomb Raider game series published by Square Enix
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Dominic West, Derek Jacobi, Kristen Scott Thomas.
Production companies GK films, Square Enix, MGM
Distributed by Warner Brothers
Release date March 16, 2018
Running time 118 minutes
Rated PG for sequences of violence and action, and for some language
Adapting a video game is very different than adapting a novel or short story. Many games have large, intricate stories, others use a bare minimum except to set up the next location of outlandish action. This action makes exciting gameplay, but how does it get translated but still be an interesting story for those not coming from the game world? One way is to embrace it, go full cheese like the damned entertaining Mortal Kombat (let’s not speak of the sequel). Some try to make a story out of inanity and come out insane – Super Mario Brothers. Another is cut it down to a minimum, attempting to ground the film in order to stand on its own. This is the route 2018’s take on Tomb Raider decided to go down. Unfortunately, there is barely enough story to sustain and little character, with the result a bland, underwhelming film.
One of today’s best actresses, Vikander, is able to pull an interesting heroine from the iconic Lara Croft. She’s a little bit lost in her life in the years since the disappearance of her businessman father (West), eking out an existence as a bike messenger. An early action sequence involving a race between her and her coworkers shows her resourcefulness and athletic skill. Stripping away a tomb raiding, adventure filled history does well to help the audience identify with Croft, although this makes a strain on the handful of death defying acts seen later in the film. Certain actions during these early beats feel like Chekhov’s Gun-Skills. To my surprise they don’t return later; making her skills alter to match the needs to the scene.
After this extended opening, a wasted Derek Jacobi gives her a puzzle box. She solves it, unlocking not a group of Cenobites, but the film’s plot (actually a second time since the backstory of the tomb was provided in opening exposition). Now with purpose, she heads off to an island holding the secret tomb of the first Japanese Empress. Soon she meets a bunch of one-note characters including her almost sidekick (Wu) and the, for lack of a better word, villain (Goggins). Wu has some interest, but the film abandons him and any sort of characterization pretty quickly. Goggins is an actor I normally love to watch, but there is so little for him to play with, he falls flat as well. His motivation is “I got a job to do… I guess.”
Goggins performance is emblematic of the whole picture. There is so little energy or drive. Nothing is allowed to build before it’s used up and moved on. Vikander and Wu are captured by Goggins to work, but one scene later they break out. Things move forward and everyone is at the tomb and there are two or three very minor puzzles to solve. Little danger is felt. Hell, the lead into one of the puzzles along with the re-meeting of lost archaeologist father just made me want to watch Last Crusade. Tthey are needed for characters to do something, but there is literally no need for puzzles in this tomb. This wouldn’t’ be a problem if the film leaned into the inherent silliness of tombs filled with traps and prizes. But since the film wants to be taken seriously, it just comes off as unnecessary.
Tomb Raider isn’t bad, it’s competent and has a few good bits, but it’s just not entertaining. This type shouldn’t be a bore. It feels small. There’s not enough there on characters and story, and also not enough action. Building either would have made a more interesting film.
a version of this review also appears on www.ageeknamedbob.com