James Rosario is a writer, filmmaker, and musician based in the Asheville, NC area. His record label, Bigger Boat Records, releases...
Tomb Raider (2018)
Directed by Roar Uthaug
Reviewed by James Rosario on March 23, 2018
If you’re like me and you’ve never played the video games or seen the Angelina Jolie versions, don’t worry, you’ll catch on. The plot is thin enough that you should have no trouble figuring out who’s who and what’s what. In fact, the main conflict and the myth behind it is described in full detail not just at the beginning of the film, but nearly word for word again half-way through. It’s important that we’re all on the same page when the tombs start getting raided you see.
I’m being harsh on Tomb Raider, but I honestly don’t see the point in films like this. Has the ‘Tomb Raider’ video game franchise been relevant recently? Has there been a resurgence that I’m not aware of? Relevance aside, you still have to put on a good show, and unfortunately this attempt falls pretty short of that mark. I will admit, however, that had I watched Tomb Raider with my 3-year-old daughter, I likely would have had a better time. Make of that what you will.
Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is the daughter of a rich adventurer who goes missing while looking for the tomb of a mythical Japanese witch. After deciphering a series of clues, she’s off to find out what happened to him, and of course raid some tombs. She’s helped along the way by a Chinese sailor who speaks perfect English named Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), and together they set off for a lost island. Once there, they are set upon by a team of mercenaries led by the nefarious Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) and forced to help open the hidden tomb. Adventure ensues.
On its surface, believe it or not, I have no issues with this premise. I’m a sucker for pulpy Indiana Jones type stories. The problem lies in the characterization. Pulp style stories are full of archetypes (the hero, the villain, the henchman, the sidekick, the dame, etc.) and Tomb Raider is no different, but for it to work these archetypes have to be developed at least a little bit. The Indiana Jones films have archetypes-a-plenty, but within these are real characters capable of growth, or at the very least, whose motivations are clear. The characters of Tomb Raider could be anyone. They’re treated as secondary to getting on with the action. They exist only to get us to the next sequence. The exception is Goggins’ Vogel. You’re in trouble when the only character in your movie to be given clear, understandable, and even relatable motivations is your evil villain. It makes you want to root for that bad guy, and that puts your film in a tight spot.
Some of this could possibly be made up for in the action and direction department, but sadly it isn’t. There’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned adventure filmmaking serving as matinee escapism, but to pull it off, your action has to be top-notch. Director Roar Uthaug’s action is anything but. In fact, it’s nearly boring. The shipwreck scene is the most exciting part of the whole film (other than watching Goggins steal every scene he’s in), but it isn’t nearly enough. I can see that an attempt was made to make Lara Croft seem vulnerable and out of her element—similar to Indiana Jones, who, if you recall, got his butt kicked a lot—but it falls very flat and winds up wasting a lot of time. There’s no point to most of the action. It serves no narrative purpose and serves to only prove to us that Lara is good at pull-ups.
I wish I could say that Tomb Raider is at least good for a few hours’ fun, but I can’t. There will certainly be more on the way—I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film so obviously set up for a sequel in my life—and maybe they’ll get better. Who knows? I honestly hope it does get better because my daughter is nearly old enough to go to the movies with me and I’d love to have something of value that's also age appropriate (and non-animated) to take her to.
Tomb Raider is now playing at area Asheville theaters.
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