No matter how many attempts are made, it seems increasingly unlikely that there will ever be a truly great movie based on a video game. The best of them are, at most, good. Tomb Raider is…fine.
It’s not surprising that studios continue to push Lara Croft onto the big screen, as she’s arguably the most logical choice for a movie franchise. The character is iconic enough to be recognisable, has a clearly defined personality, and her adventures are vague enough to give screenwriters ample room to create their own story while still fitting into the formula of the games. Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander takes the role of Lara Croft from Angelina Jolie, who last played it in 2003, and her casting is easily the strongest element of Roar Uthaug’s film. The early scenes of Lara in London enable Vikander to display a tremendous amount of charm and humour, even if these qualities don’t get as much focus once her actual adventure begins. In fact, I’ll confess that I actually preferred these establishing scenes more than the main plot, as Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons’s script sets up a fast-paced world with interesting characters for Lara to interact with before quickly abandoning them. Once Lara finds documents revealing where her missing father (Dominic West) went seven years ago she quickly joins up with captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to sail across to the dangerous island where the legendary Queen Himiko is rumoured to be buried. Unsurprisingly the ship crashes, stranding her with the sinister Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) – part of an equally sinister team who seek to unearth Himiko due to her rumoured destructive powers.
Tomb Raider undoubtedly favours its action-packed set pieces over plot, and there are admittedly quite a few impressive ones. Lara struggling to escape a crashed plane dangling precariously over a waterfall and a high-speed bike race through the streets of London are two standout sequences, particularly for how Uthaug seems to prefer practical stunt-work to give each jump, thud, and scrape a physical impact. I did start to lose interest once they get into the tomb at the end, as the trials they face feel a bit too much like video game puzzles, but the script does manage a nice balance between the supernatural mysticism of the games and the more realistic focus of the film. I was frustrated by the decision to lose Lara’s background as an extraordinarily intelligent and educated archaeologist from the games, as while I recognise that this is an origin story more than anything it does leave Lara primarily reacting to other people’s actions or work. Given the blatant sequel hook the film ends on, though, it’s possible they’re working up to that element.
Ultimately, though, nothing in Tomb Raider really felt fully developed. Walton Goggins, who was so effectively sleazy in 2015’s The Hateful Eight, has almost no personality as Vogel. Despite Vikander’s charisma Lara borders on being bratty and entitled at certain points, and the script relies far too heavily on characters happening to run into each other when the plot needs them to. Add in a number of plot holes and unnecessary flashbacks that spell out the obvious twists and one gets the sense that the studios didn’t expect anyone watching this to be using an ounce of mental energy. Which is appropriate, as Tomb Raider is a film best enjoyed with the brain fully switched off.
2 and a half stars.