You know, I can’t even begin to imagine how much of a shoe-in doing a new Tomb Raider would have been to investors. On the one hand, you’ve got a well-established and successful video game franchise. And on the other, you’ve got an astoundingly strong female lead. Both in name recognition and the character’s general attitude. As that is something society as a whole seems to be demanding more of these days, surely Tomb Raider’s got to be the closest you can get to a sure thing?
Alas, as we’ve seen from last years Assassin’s Creed, a popular and successful video game franchise does not automatically mean a successful film. Indeed, Tomb Raider has got a bit of an uphill battle here. There has been exactly ONE great videogame movie. Its name is Wreck-It Ralph. Everything else pretty much straddles the line between “decent” and “OH GOD ANYTHING BUT THIS!”
So good luck Tomb Raider. Our expectations are not high.
Seven years after her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), has disappeared; Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) lives a rather down-to-earth life, delivering takeaways for a meagre wage.
Finally accepting her father’s estate, least it be sold off, she gains access to his secret office. A place where Richard Croft stored much information relating to the tomb of Himiko, an ancient Queen of Yamatai, and someone who is said to have brought death to all those around her.
Though a recording of her father instructs her to destroy the research, she instead chooses to pick up where he left off. With sea captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) in tow, she heads to the Devil’s Island and tries to find out more about the tomb. But little does she know that the villainous Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) has the same goal, and will stop at nothing to get there first.
Loosely based on the 2013 game of the same name, Tomb Raider starts off with a bang. A brutal punch-up, a relatable & not-defined-by-her-cleavage Lara Croft, and a kinetic bike chase through the streets of London. All this happening within the first 15 minutes suggests that director Roar Uthaug (what a name!) knows exactly the type of film he’s making: an action-packed adventure with a thread of Indiana Jones-style fun.
But as the film slows down to start setting up the rest of the narrative, that 15 minutes soon turns into 25 minutes, then 35 minutes, and eventually, at the 40 minute mark, Lara reaches the island where the bulk of the story takes place. Not only does this change take place far too late in the story, but once reaching this location, there seems to be a massive shift in tone. Gone is the light-hearted energy and vigor, instead replaced by a disturbing, almost unrelenting darkness.
As such, the first 40 minutes, while technically setup, ends up misguiding the audience. Essentially luring them in with promises of fun and humour, but instead delivering brutality and gruesomeness. Imagine, for a second, that after watching the jovial-filled beginnings of Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy, the script then removed every single joke once the characters reached the lost city. That’s what Tomb Raider ends up doing, and as such fails as a form of either popcorn entertainment or serious drama.
While this lack of humour could usually be put down to the fault of the writers (Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons), for once they shouldn’t be the ones to take the blame. In an interview with Collider, Robertson-Dworet states her original drafts had that Indiana Jones-esque humour, but was vetoed by the Oscar-winning leading lady for the dark and dingy world we ended up with. Moral of the story? Let writers write goddamnit!
But despite Ms Vikander’s lack of writing ability, her acting and action-chops are next to none. Unlike the more fantastical approach of Angelina Jolie’s first film, this one emphasises Vikander’s archaeologist as human first, with the more bad-ass aspects gradually being dropped in later. Such a path helps make for a believable and rootable protagonist.
However, though Vikander’s character has a solid arc, the same can’t be said for any of the supporting characters. Compared to individuals like Indiana Jones’ Sallah or The Mummy’s Evelyn, there is almost no one that stands on their own two feet. Thank god then, for Nick Frost in his short appearance as a pawn shop owner. Without it this would have been a far more miserable film indeed.
The 2018 Tomb Raider is not a particularly great film. Despite the well-shot action, the lack of any levity during the island scenes means that most of the film ends up feeling like a typical teenager: overly sullen and morose.
But despite the stuttering start, I do think this is still a reasonably successful start to a franchise. And this is mainly down to the casting of Vikander. In her, Warner Brothers have discovered someone that, not only looks the part, but is hugely likable and watchable.
So maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but (assuming they punch-up the jokes) roll on Tomb Raider 2!