Tomb Raider Review
Lara Croft: The Beginning
Although bloated by a largely unnecessary origin story, Tomb Raider does provide some decent Indy-style action-adventure with Alicia Vikander on fine form.Hollywood seems intent on sticking to formula even when it's been tried and tested and doesn't work. After decades of popular sequels and over-populated film franchises spawned from movies which weren't origin stories, these days the goal of building a franchise makes studios blind as to actually building a decent film in the first place. In this respect Tomb Raider follows the formula of the ill-fated Ghost in the Shell adaptation to a T, assuming audiences are simply incapable of jumping into the adventures of gun-toting archaeologist-adventurer billionaire Lara Croft in medias res, and instead require detailed knowledge about how she got the skills, the money, and even the damn guns.It's a mistake that the best in this genre never made, and that's a lesson this latest video game adaptation reboot origin story should have learned a long time ago. Despite all this - and an hour of how-she-goes-from-bicycle-courier-to-running-around-with-a-bow-and-arrow-on-a-mysterious-island plotting - Tomb Raider is far from an offensive movie, mostly landing on the right side of average and often even lapsing into vaguely enjoyable territory. It manages to do things that many film viewers used to take for granted, but that have long since become optional extras for Blockbuster fare, like develop a coherent plot for example, and it delivers a reasonable quota of action and adventure.
It's strongest selling point is, of course, Alicia Vikander, who frankly looks a lot more convincing as a running, fighting, climbing adventurer than Angelina Jolie's male fantasy (who was, of course, more faithful to the erm, dimensions, of the ridiculous video game character), and tries her hardest to actually turn the shallow character design into something with some vague weight to it. She deserves better material than this, but never steps out of character, looking the part when she's running through the jungle or jumping across collapsing landscapes.
Justified's Walton Goggins slinks his way through a pantomime villain role that he could do in his sleep, Dominic West tries his best not to look confused about being cast as Vikander's dad, Kristin Scott Thomas appears to have agreed to a part that requires her to look like a cross between Cruella de Vil and Bram Stoker's Dracula, and, given the film's early release in no less than nine Asian territories (in advance of its release in the US and UK), there's a somewhat understandable cynicism attached to the casting of Into the Badlands' Daniel Wu, even if he makes for an affable companion who thankfully skirts any unnecessary romantic territory. They all struggle with cliched character designs which the filmmakers appear not in the least bit interested in subverting, but this is still a cut above many other video game adaptations even if that's far from a high standard to beat, and much of the credit returns to Vikander, who ducks, dives, rolls and grunts her way out of a quagmire of cliches to remain - somewhat improbably - a reasonably compelling protagonist (at least until she starts doing things like aiming a bow and arrow at a helicopter).
That a film has to be commended for not being offensive is something that is, itself, rather questionable
Norwegian film director Roar Uthaug makes his US debut here and is a not ineffective helmer who could do with a more efficient editor (this film's got two, and even together they can't seem to turn in the shark of a lean movie that Tomb Raider needed to be) but at least has a good eye for the action-adventure side of things, with the film crafting several reasonably memorable setpieces that - in a good way - looked like they were pulled straight out of the countless video games over the last few decades. Indeed whilst it's frustrating that 3D appears to be desperately enforced upon anybody who wants to see this movie early (many cinemas are only showing it in 3D), that aspect at least allows for a few vertigo-inducing moments which make for a nice touch.
Ultimately it's far from the 1/5 debacle that many appear to be prepared to write it off as. It's nothing that offensive. That a film has to be commended for not being offensive is something that is, itself, rather questionable, but considering how it could have turned out, Tomb Raider is a Vikander-driven, modestly enjoyable, admittedly overlong, and somewhat lopsided affair that indulges in a solid if unnecessary first half of plotting before dipping into a necessary but arguably uncharacteristically (given the first hour) over-the-top second half driven by action. And it's a film that suffers from being yet another misguided attempt at building a franchise rather than building a decent film. Like aiming an arrow at a helicopter, Tomb Raider aims at the wrong target entirely, condescending its audience with the arrogant presumption that this will be the first of many future instalments when it hasn't even earned an unequivocal right to demand that you watch this one.
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