In the wake of the franchise’s successful video game reboot in 2013, Tomb Raider is back on the big screen with a retelling of Lara Croft’s origin story. Directed by Roar Uthaug, the film is very much so Batman Begins for Lara Croft as it follows her on an adventure that ultimately transforms her into the tomb raider she’s meant to be. Alicia Vikander does a good job in the central role as Lara Croft, but the movie feels too messy and bogged down by sloppy visuals to be considered a success. Certain visual cues seem ripped right out of the games and the action sequences aren’t too bad, but overall this movie walks the line of mediocrity instead of creating something long-term fans can be truly happy about.
Instead of introducing audiences to an experienced Tomb Raider like the Angelina Jolie series did, this film initially follows Lara Croft before her days as an explorer. Unwilling to tap into the Croft fortune because she believes her father is alive, despite what everyone around her is saying, Lara works as a bike courier to make due. This version of the character is extremely hip and is motivated by an understandable motivation of wanting to make her own way in the world. As the story progresses, she sets off on a grand adventure, but her motivation always remains deeply personal as she thinks she can rescue her father. Throughout the course of the movie, Lara essentially transforms from an adolescent into a confident adult as she squares off against the evil Trinity corporation as they search for the tomb of Princess Himiko, an ancient empress who supposedly could kill anything just by touching it.
Vikander in the starring role is the best thing this movie has going for it. After winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2016 for her role in The Danish Girl, it was only a matter of time before she joined a big franchise and she chose the perfect one to display just how tough she is. To make the movie feel more like a video game, Uthaug put Lara in every scene to make sure it felt like the audience was experiencing everything from her perspective, and she does a great job showing her emotion every moment she’s on screen. Lara is put through the gauntlet in this film, and Vikander slowly shows the wear-and-tear throughout the movie. At moments her performance is a little hammy, but that’s just her trying her best with a mediocre script.
Tomb Raider is full of cool stunts but held back by sloppy visuals. There are a lot of practical effects throughout the movie, but most of the big sequences are muffled by too many cuts and too much camera motion to completely understand what’s going on. It’s clear that cinematographer George Richmond, who did last year’s Kingsmen: The Golden Circle, wanted to recreate a lot of the shots from the new game series, but they don’t translate well to film. Heavy reliance on green screen and slow-motion turn moments that looked awesome in the games into shots that look sloppy and underwhelming compared to other CGI movies currently playing in theaters. Fortunately, a lot of the fight scenes are done practically and Vikander is shown taking people down to the ground and wielding her pick axe. Since she’s new to the adventure lifestyle, audiences can see how these fights impact her emotionally and how her skills develop throughout the movie in an enjoyable way.
For the most part, Vikander’s strong performance isn’t matched by anyone in the supporting cast. The ensemble is pretty weak and all of the supporting characters have incredibly one-dimensional motivations that don’t hold up. Walton Goggins, who’s known for his role in Justified and two Quentin Tarantino films, plays a minion of the Trinity Corporation and just wants to finish his mission and return home to his daughters. While that looks nice on paper, he’s actively working towards the possible death of every living being on the planet, so it’s pretty unlikely that he actually cares about his family at all. Equally awkward and one-dimensional is Dominic West’s performance as Lara’s father Sir Richard Croft. Initially, the character comes across as endearing, but as the film progresses it becomes too easy to look down on the character as foolish or selfish. West is fine in the role, but he seems more comfortable as a stiff aristocrat and doesn’t carry the rough island persona as convincingly. Lastly, there’s Lu Ren, Lara’s companion who joins her on her mission because his father is also missing. While he is a good friend to Lara and has compelling motivations, actor Daniel Wu turns in such a ham-fisted performance that it’s hard to take the drunken hero seriously even when he sobers up and takes action.
Production designer Gary Freeman is no stranger to the Tomb Raider world. Since his time working on Lara Croft: Tomb Raider as an assistant art director in 2001, Freeman has gone on to work on everything from Children of Men to Maleficent. His long career is put on full display here as every setting gives off unique vibes and looks visually compelling. Alongside the prop department, Freeman does a great job at giving each location a lively feeling that seems ripped right out of a cut-scene. A lot of Tomb Raider is understandably gray since large portions of the movie take place in caves or tombs, but whenever Lara is out in the jungles or biking through the city the movie gives off beautiful bouts of color.
Unfortunately, everyone who’s been waiting for a great video game adaptation will have to wait a bit longer. A lot of this movie is ripped right out of the recent video game reboot from 2013, but it doesn’t have the same sense of heart and struggle that made the game shine. Tomb Raider hits the basic requirements to be called a decent origin story. It’s just a pretty lackluster film overall. Sloppy visuals and unnecessary amounts of exposition take away from a movie that does a good job setting up Lara Croft as an interesting character. Alicia Vikander is a good choice as the titular tomb raider, and hopefully, if there is a sequel, she will turn in another solid performance as Lara Croft continues to cement her place in this new world.
Final Score: 5/10
5 Superheroes That Deserve Their Own Video Game Universe
World building and universe building are not new. These writing techniques have been around for centuries, long before we even started writing our stories down. I always considered Beowulf to be the precursor to superheroes and comics. However, due to the overwhelming success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the CW DC Universe (or Arrowverse), it seems that the universal world building that has been in comics for three-quarters of a century has finally become a major storytelling point in both the film and TV worlds of superheroes.
Between Rocksteady’s Arkham Trilogy (Batman: Arkham Origins was developed by WB Games Montreal), Telltale Games’ Guardians of the Galaxy, Insomniac Games establishing that their Spider-Man game will be the anchor point for a new Spider-Man universe, and the announcement from earlier this year of a multi-year, multi-game deal between Marvel and developer/publisher Square Enix it seems like the video games will be the next place where sprawling superhero stories will be told.
Hit Next to learn about 5 superheroes that deserve their own video game universe!