A while back, I declared The Angry Birds Movie as the best film that is based on the video game. Not that the movie is that good, it’s mediocre at best, but considering its brethren it eased to that position. I have sat through movies such as Super Mario Bros and Alone in the Dark which are some of the worst movies ever made, so it’s not hard for a film based on a mobile game fad to become the best. But I am hopeful with every release of a video game movie that we will get a good one. Can Tomb Raider be that good one?
Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina) is unable to accept that her father Richard (Dominic West, The Wire) is most likely dead after he went missing while she was a teenager. However when she is given some of her father’s things, she discovers that he was an adventurer and plots to follow him to the dangerous island he was said to be investigation.
Now we’ve been through two Tomb Raider movies before with Angelina Jolie playing Lara Croft in those. I do admit that while those movies aren’t that good, they can be enjoyed because they have a fairly campy attitude and there’s a knowledge from the film that it’s a bit crap. But this movie can’t get away with that. Following the video games, which followed a similar transformation after its revered reboot back in 2013, this is a much grittier affair. Yes I’m groaning too but at least the gritty reboot here is based on some prior success. And it does work here because it’s not afraid to have some tough scenes to watch, especially when it definitely does copy the video game by having Lara pull some wood that has jammed right into her gut. Couldn’t watch it in the video game so I can barely watch this. So it’s not fair to write this off as a cheap and easy gritty reboot just yet.
I’m not sure that the reboot has done anything great for the character of Lara though. In the Jolie movies, she is a bad ass. She has a swagger about her which marks her out as this woman you can’t mess with. Jolie was a perfect casting choice for this sort of role and it’s probably her best known role because of it. With Lara looking very different nowadays, Vikander is a very good casting choice for this movie. But the character is very different as well and I’m still not quite sure if I like it. You can’t mark her out as a bad ass from the off because she starts the movie as a Deliveroo driver who gets her ass kicked at kickboxing, which is certainly not what I expected from this movie. And she does some cool things such as being a fox in this bicycle chase thing and chasing down some muggers. But at other times she’s just along for the ride. In the conclusion, she doesn’t seem to be proactive at all. She just does what she’s told by the villain and makes sure we can have the rather underwhelming ending. It’s a bit of a mish mash of character where they are trying to mix that old swagger and the origin story with little success.
And yes, the ending is a bit underwhelming but the rest of the set pieces are the sort of fun you want from a movie like this. They make a massive deal of her athleticism so the set pieces tend to revolve around that. So that aforementioned mugger chase isn’t just Lara running after some people in Hong Kong. I mean it is that, but it’s much more. She takes advantage of the environment and is willing to do some parkour on the boats to make it more interesting to watch. And considering the first action scene is a bicycle chase, that’s a good way of making sure we see a variety of set pieces. There’s also the fantastic aeroplane scene which is just great fun to watch when you stop worrying about all the tetanus shots she is surely going to have.
I also want to praise the fighting scenes because they are different from the norm as well. If you watch fights in movies, they are mostly all the same. A brutal fist fight with them chucking each other into walls. That’s fine enough, I enjoy those fights if they are well shot and well done by the actors. But Tomb Raider has a different tact. These are much more MMA based with Lara looking to force henchman to pass out through holds rather than just beating them to a pulp. Not only is this more believable, Lara Croft is a bad ass but I’m not going to believe she can knock a fool out with a few punches, but it’s a nice change of pace. These fights feel different from any other movie I’ve seen recently and I feel like a lot of directors are going to see this sort of action scene and copy it. Make that one of my predictions for action movies in 2019.
However while anything with action in it tends to be fun, when we get back to the plot it goes back to being rather dull. It’s not just that the plot is paint-by-numbers but also that the villain is one of the least interesting I’ve seen in the last few years. Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins, Justified) is not on this island because he has a sinister plan to take over the world or has an obsession that has gone too far. No, this is a job and he’s just sick of being on this island so needs to get things done quick. It’s certainly relatable for all those people who hate their job and become slapdash on Fridays when it’s almost time for the weekend but not exactly something that makes for a compelling villain. He’s dull as dishwater and I wish he could get off the island to be replaced by some who who is far more interesting in his evil.
Tomb Raider is therefore a mixed bag. There’s plenty to like about it, there are plenty of action scenes and it keeps going at a good pace so there’s enough to make sure you aren’t bored. But it does need a more compelling plot.This is a movie that is riding on the charm and charisma of Alicia Vikander and those cool action scenes and it does sometimes fall off the rails, especially as some of the characterisation as Lara Croft does fall short. But it does do enough to take that crown away from Angry Birds and become the best video game movie in the world. For whatever that’s worth.