Movie Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

Tomb Raider is the beloved franchise, spawned by a popular video game, which follows the treasure hunting adventures of Lara Croft. Angelina Jolie played Tomb Raider in the first video game film adaptation, which focused on the character’s action-ready sex appeal. Starring opposite her real father, John Voight, who also happens to play a treasure-hunting father to Nicholas Cage in National Treasure, she was the quintessential Lara Croft for the age. Much like James Bond encapsulates the world’s epitome of masculinity, Lara Croft serves as an equal opposite ideal. The original Tomb Raider was a mixed bag, promising at first but encountering enough issues to make it seem like it had been salvaged.

Video game adaptations generally don’t have the best reputation. Arguably the best and longest-running of these is Resident Evil starring Milla Jovovich, which recently released its final chapter, filmed in South Africa. The role of Alice was supplanted into the video game series, yet it created an effective blueprint for video game adaptations featuring a female lead such as Tomb Raider, picking up on a fresh gap in the market and harnessing a loyal fan base.

The latest Tomb Raider is a lightweight origin story… allowing Lara Croft to stumble upon her calling and family legacy. Picking up on some clues and uncovering details surrounding an ancient mystery she’s able to retrace her father’s last expedition in the hopes of discovering what became of him. 

Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander is the earthy Tomb Raider for our age and brings more humanity and vulnerability to the character. Her beauty is downplayed in favour of a more rugged disposition, which is ultimately more realistic and relatable than the Angelina Jolie archetype. While more down-to-earth, she’s no slouch, using her athletic ability, gamesmanship and fierce nature to stay one step ahead of the pack. She is a warrior rather than a superhero, feeling the cuts, scrapes and bruises but charging on in spite of the pain. The girl-next-door temperament makes her much more accessible and easier to admire rather than worship. Vikander embraces Croft with much humility, making her the underdog everyone’s rooting for.

 “Croft, Lara Croft…”

Norwegian director, Roar Uthaug, has a firm grasp on action-adventure and does well, concocting some explosive and spectacular action sequences. While the Scandinavian angle makes you think the idea was to channel some of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ferocity, the new Tomb Raider seems like a product of a much wider array of influences. Normally Lara Croft leads solo expeditions and is self-sufficient, but develops comrades much like Resident Evil’s Alice. Starting off with some adrenaline-fueled messenger bike action, it’s reminiscent of Premium Rush. The stormy sea voyage has a similar vibration to King Kong, while the tomb excavation and exploration echo films like The Mummy, Prometheus and Indiana Jones.

Tomb Raider obviously isn’t aiming for true originality, but rather sheer entertainment value. While clichés abound, Vikander’s likable performance, deft action set pieces, good pacing and enjoyable treasure hunting tropes see us through some very familiar terrain. The dialogue is padded and despite the conviction of Vikander’s performance, there’s an underlying insincerity fostered by an inconsistent level of performance from a recognisable cast. Tomb Raider starts with aplomb and intriguing mystery but gradually becomes quite rote and predictable as the character focus softens.

It’s a respectable enough video game adaptation and reboot for the franchise, but it’s operating at a level you would expect from a sequel. One key performance comes across as theatrical, as if playing in a biblical epic, which offsets the dramatic integrity of the action-adventure. It’s not enough to sink the film, but certainly puts more pressure on the action component, forcing the production to get by on style rather than substance. Vikander is a trooper, who single-handedly  carries the emotional core of Tomb Raider, raising the bar in this otherwise middling popcorn actioner.

The bottom line: Okay