Video game adaptations have a bad rap, and deservedly so, with the likes of Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, Prince of Persia, Silent Hill and 2016’s Assassin’s Creed delivering disappointment after disappointment over the years. It appears the games that should make for great cinematic takes, simply aren’t done justice. So, it’s understandable if the many Tomb Raider fans (this writer included) are looking at this, the third big-screen Lara Croft adventure following the Angelina Jolie pictures in 2001 and 2003, with some hope. Here’s the good news: it’s not horrific. Is it great? Let’s not go crazy.
The film follows Lara (Alicia Vikander), a young bike courier who, well, hasn’t been up to much in the years after the disappearance of her wealthy and adventurous father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West). Finally deciding to claim her father’s inheritance, Croft receives a key to his hidden office, where she uncovers that he was investigating the myth of a mystical Queen. She ignores her father’s pre-recorded request to destroy his research and, with the help of a tacked on sidekick of sorts in the form of Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), decides to head to his last-known location: a mysterious island off the coast of Japan.
Let’s kick off with the film’s big plus: Vikander is quite good as Lara Croft. The Oscar winner manages to craft a kick-ass heroine that carries a tangible internal strength, impressive physicality and a level of vulnerability that keeps the character grounded. Vikander’s rendition is nicely in line with the young Croft from the 2013 video game reboot, on which the film is based. What the character goes through is understandably exhausting, and Vikander shows it – at least when she’s given the chance.
Making his English-language debut, Norwegian director Roar Uthaug (The Wave) proves himself to be adept at getting the look of the game mostly down pat; many moments will take gamers right back to the game’s set pieces and even the gameplay itself. So yes, kudos deserved for some nice fan service. During the first half, and particularly around the midpoint, Uthaug also gets a chance to show off some energetic action sequences; the stormy arrival to the island, for example, is a heart-pounder. There’s also an escape sequence involving a waterfall and a parachute that’s great fun. On a side note: these trailers have to stop showing off so. much. footage.
The film’s build up, thankfully, rolls along with a decent amount of energy, but there’s little of substance for us to care about. We’re quickly given a few character points, primarily pointing to Croft’s relationship with her father. Flashbacks need to be nicely crafted in order to elicit an emotional response for what’s happening in the present day. Just don’t expect that here. On paper, basing the plot around Croft and her father may have seemed a natural driving force to get her from A to B, but a certain eye-rolling plot development around the halfway mark makes a lot of what’s come before feel somewhat pointless, and it doesn’t add as much to the rest of the plot as it thinks it does.
Aside from Vikander, the cast doesn’t really have much to work with. And that’s saying something, because Vikander’s the one bringing a lot to the table. West tries to give Croft’s father some sort of depth, but the script and its at times awful dialogue leaves him hanging. As the film’s villain, the usually reliable Walton Goggins shows early promise, giving us a baddie whose ruthlessness comes from tired frustration. Alas, before long, he’s just tired, an antagonist that barely seems to care.
The villain’s path from promising to ultimately banal mirrors both the overall narrative and the production. From some decent little moments, such as the aforementioned action sequences, the film’s second half goes on to provide us with an awkwardly small-feeling island (how are we still in this one little area!?), clumsily directed extras, and a finale that feels as dated as the old hand-me-down-looking set that’s being used. Without giving away anything, the final act really ought to have been a little more impressive; it’s a video game adaptation – have some big fun! Instead, it’s like something like out of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
Yes, Tomb Raider is a disappointment, but it isn’t absolutely terrible. Lazy may be the right word, since there is some fun to be had with the effort put in the right places, only for much else to fall short. There’s a mismanaged focus throughout, leading to an energy that spirals out way too early, clumsily handled exposition, and a reliance on tropes where some creativity could have worked wonders. Of course, the door is left wide open for a franchise, and despite the above criticisms, I’d be keen to see where Croft’s journey takes her. Tomb Raider is like the mediocre pilot episode of a television series, one that – assuming it continues – hopefully gets better as it progresses.