Movie Review: Tomb Raider
By Matthew Huntley
March 26, 2018
Anyone going into “Tomb Raider” (2018) will (hopefully) not be expecting cutting edge cinema. It is, after all, just another fantastical adventure story along the same lines as the “Indian Jones” movies, “The Goonies,” and, well, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” Yes, this is a re-imagining, if you will (it's not exactly a remake), of that Angelina Jolie vehicle from 2001, which was the first filmed incarnation of the popular video game franchise. And just like Indiana Jones, the heroine in this series is a resourceful archaeologist, although at the beginning of this movie she doesn't officially have that title. Even so, she embarks on a quest around the globe to find a supernatural historical figure, while simultaneously using her wits, unique athletic abilities, and trusted bow and arrow to battle and thwart evil men.
Because “Tomb Raider” hardly brings anything new—neither concept, character nor narrative-wise—to the action-adventure table, its success depends heavily on the likability and enthusiasm of its star and whether we can get behind her in spite of a lackluster plot and mostly traditional action sequences. Luckily, Alicia Vikander is not only physically capable as Lara, but her sympathetic expressions and genuine emotions bring an unexpected depth and vulnerability to the role. She's not just a pretty face and so we end up getting more out of “Tomb Raider” than we initially anticipated.
I used lackluster to describe the plot, and it is, but that's not to say it's bad, just ordinary. It simply serves, like most plots in movies of this nature, as a clothesline on which to hang over-the-top action sequences, such as a road bike race along the streets of London; a foot chase across parked boats in a fishing harbor; a giant sea storm; a downhill mountain pursuit that ends with Lara falling in a river and hanging onto a crashed plane that sits on the edge of a waterfall; mighty leaps across pits; jumps and slides on stone floors to avoid booby-traps; and of course, more than one instance in which Lara gets to show off her mixed martial arts skills, including a direct hit to the villain's family jewels.
Essentially, the action sequences are the plot, since they take up most of the screen time. The other minutes are filled with a basic back story and introduction to Lara, a carefree twentysomething and borderline ne'er-do-well who, despite being the heiress to her father's massive fortune and the Croft family manor, often lives hand-to-mouth as a courier. When she's not delivering packages, she's either kickboxing or living recklessly one way or another.
Following her latest run-in with the law, Ana (Kristen Scott Thomas), the overseer of her father's estate, tells Lara she has to finally accept that her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), is dead, and if she doesn't claim her inheritance, she runs the risk of losing it all. But Lara isn't convinced her father is really gone. Years ago, Richard, an “official” archaeologist and seeker of truth, embarked on a mission to find the lost tomb of Himiko, an ancient Japanese queen who ruled with black magic and had the power to inflict death with just a touch of her hand. Later on we learn exactly why Richard sought Himiko's sarcophagus (it's not a huge twist, but I'll refrain from spoiling it), and once Lara uncovers specific instructions from him within a Japanese puzzle, she starts her own search for Himiko, hoping that maybe she'll also find her father.
Lara's journey starts in Hong Kong, where she partners with Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), son of her father's travel companion who also went missing. They eventually make it to Yamatai, the island Himiko once ruled, and here they face the merciless Mathias Vogel (Walter Goggins), who claims to have killed Richard in order to exploit his research. Without giving too much away, although it doesn't really take a genius to figure out how “Tomb Raider” will play out, Lara must escape Vogel's clutches and prevent him and his cronies from obtaining Himiko's power and using it for evil.
If the plot sounds familiar, it should, because it's essentially the plot of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which created the template for other movies in this genre, including “The Mummy” and “National Treasure.” Ideally, the makers of “Tomb Raider” would have sought a more original story to place Lara in, but nevertheless, we go along with it. Besides, the real reason to see “Tomb Raider” is because Vikander is so charming and passionate. We root for and ultimately care about Lara because of her, and what's refreshing is the way the screenplay paints her not as a superhero type, but as someone who's vulnerable and still has a lot of growing up to do. Vikander herself is not yet 30 and, as Lara, she comes across as a kid, still shaping herself into the warrior we know she'll become (which is where Jolie's version started off). For now, though, she gets hurt, makes her share of stupid mistakes, and has a hard time accepting she doesn't know everything. If there's a sequel, I believe Vikander could make Lara's growth and development rather interesting, and it'd be wise for the next movie to focus on this instead of another hackneyed plot.
As a re-introduction to Lara Croft, “Tomb Raider” functions well as mindless, Saturday-matinee entertainment. Fans of the genre will be satiated by the action scenes, which are energetic and tactile, not coming across as too CGI-laden. But what ultimately keeps the movie together is Vikander, whose spirit and emotion convince us to buy what the filmmakers are selling. She takes command and we sense she could really take this series beyond where the genre has already explored, which would be fitting, since by the end of this movie, you could say her character is now an “official” explorer.
*NOTE: The final scene, I feel, is a misstep. Without giving anything away, it takes place at a pawn shop and involves guns. In light of recent tragedies and public outcry regarding the accessibility of firearms, it would be interesting to see, if there ever is a “Tomb Raider” sequel, if Lara's character would be just as gung-ho about guns. While I don't encourage any weapons of any kind against people, if Lara must have one, she should stick with her bow and arrow.