Roar Uthaug’s reboot of Tomb Raider is definitely better than the past Angelina Jolie films, but in the slew of action films, this version feels bland. Alicia Vikander, with her immense upper body strength, mightily carries the film, flaws and all.
Here’s the thing: If you have high hopes for films based on video games, then you’re likely setting yourself up for disappointment. To be fair, this reboot of Tomb Raider belongs on the “better” spectrum of Hollywood video game adaptations but that’s not really saying much considering most of them are either appalling, or at best, mediocre.
I see the vision that director Roar Uthaug has in here: the new Lara Croft (played by Alicia Vikander) remains to be a heroine in her prime. She possesses superb strength, dexterity and wit paralleled by her unwavering bravery but at the same time she’s prone at making irrational choices, getting bruised or wounded and falling short in leaping long distances – a much grounded version, and if I may add, a less hyper-sexualized version of the character that Angelina Jolie played years ago.
Still, it is hard to suspend one’s disbelief when you see Lara powering through nature’s best hits of catastrophe: a boat wreck in the middle of a raging storm, a gushing river leading to a waterfall, a last-minute parasailing, a stone avalanche, an elaborate array of booby traps—mentioning all the ensuing bombastic action set pieces is exhausting in itself. One can only admire Vikander’s work (she’s cutting zero slack in here) as she moans and grunts her way into whatever the film asks of her to do. As soon as the shot focuses on Vikander’s youthful and seemingly fragile face, one can wonder, “How can a bike courier do all of this?”
Lara’s jarringly instant metamorphosis can be attributed to her poor character development. There is a moment in the film where she deeply laments on her first kill then suddenly she transforms from a terrified survivor to a ruthless assassin, skewering nameless henchmen with her arrows. The film justifies her excellent archery skills with amply shoe-horned flashbacks. In fact, most of her humanity and saccharine relationship with her lost father (Dominic West) are rounded by these flashbacks clunkily-placed throughout the film. Still, it does have a weak emotional impact as you never see Lara and her father bond but viewers are instead served with scenes of her father leaving her for an expedition.
The characterizations of the supporting cast don’t stand up to a lot of scrutiny either. Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) successfully adds himself to the pile of Hollywood’s generic villains with unclear motivations. For the most part, he just points gun at his slaves while throwing a not-so-menacing look. Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) could be a good sidekick to Lara but the film reduces him merely to a plot device. Also, the film is sorely lacking of female characters. Kristin Scott Thomas is only present for a few scenes.
Tomb Raider’s plot is basic enough to understand – this is about Lara’s search for his father in the island of Yamatai where the fabled Queen Himiko was buried. The film, however, undermines its viewers by heavily capitalizing on expositions. There’s also an occasional humor which falls flat leaving an awkward silence in the theater. (I am surprised however at the bunch of dudes laughing behind me. Really?) Then there’s tacky lines such as “You messed with the wrong family,” and I feel sorry that the Oscar-winning actress has to deliver such.
This serviceable plot should be enough to fuel a checklist of Hollywood action set pieces. Director Uthaug incorporates exciting elements in the 2013 reboot of the game which may delight fans, but for those who are uninitiated, these will all appear uninspired and somehow lackluster. No matter how good Junkie XL’s musical scoring is, the end result still lacks cinematic depth and tension.
Vikander, with her immense upper body strength, mightily carries the film, flaws and all. If anything else, she can go back home to her husband, Michael Fassbender, and boast that her video game movie is way better than Assassin’s Creed.