Review by C.J. Bunce
For a new generation, the new adventure-thriller Tomb Raider may be an entry point into the adventure genre. If you like the concepts in Tomb Raider, you’re likely to love adventure classics like that other “raider,” Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Mummy, and Disney’s National Treasure series. Tomb Raider borrows much from these movies, even key sequences that serve as the high points of the film. The film itself? It’s all about that upper-body strength and holding on for dear life. (How many action films feature the hero holding on to the edge of a precipice with one hand anyway?) It’s good, not great, but a fun enough popcorn flick for a late winter release, particularly to see someone the size of Alicia Vikander racing through all the required harrowing action scenes. She leaps, fights, sprints, and dodges pitfalls, and gets kicked, punched, and bruised in a part typically reserved for the likes of Dwayne Johnson.
In the role last explored by Angelina Jolie, Academy Award-winning actress Alicia Vikander (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Ex Machina, Jason Bourne) becomes video game heroine Lara Croft, only this version of the story is more rooted in the real world, with less heroine posing and no cocky catch phrases–and more sweat. The new Tomb Raider definitely fits alongside past video game adaptations, better than the prior films in the franchise, and nudging out more recent video game adaptations Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed. Unfortunately it comes on the heels of the immensely entertaining Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which opted for humor instead of drama. This isn’t a comedy, but would have benefited from some more levity along the way.
For an adventure about secrets and riddles, it doesn’t present much for the audience to sleuth out, as was done so well in the entertaining National Treasure movies. But to its credit it has some good special effects and exceptional chase sequences that are best viewed on the big screen. And this Lara Croft is always being chased or running from something. A bicycle race early on and a foot chase across boats docked off the coast of Hong Kong are filmed like a riveting James Bond opener. And an escape through raging rapids at the edge of a waterfall is perfectly executed and full-on exciting (in a good theater your acrophobia and claustrophobia may even kick in). The overall plot is a bit thin–Lara receives a key left by her father as she is about to sign an affidavit acknowledging his death and her inheritance, and she pursues clues to his secret work that leave her stranded on a secluded, legendary island housing an ancient tomb. This is about a fantasy video game character, so if you can push aside reality you may have a really good time.
This Tomb Raider could have benefited from any number of tweaks to amp-up the excitement and possibly make the film more engaging: a more powerful John Williams-esque score, less of an old-fashioned Allan Quatermain-paced adventure template (the feel of the film is similar to the King Kong movies), more mystery, more puzzles, some more flair to the script, or some of the romp and rollicking fun of the 1999 film The Mummy. Unfortunately the best intrigue is saved for the ending, which serves as a segue to the possibility of more films in the franchise.
Look for video game movie go-to guy Daniel Wu (Warcraft) as a sea captain who helps Lara, plus what amounts to cameos by Kristin Scott Thomas (Mission: Impossible), Hannah-John Kamen (Ready Player One), and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead). Dominic West (The Hour) shines as Lara’s father and Walton Goggins (Ant-Man and the Wasp, The Hateful Eight) has one of his better roles as a villain driven to get a job done.
It’s a fun adventure, but don’t expect a layered story. Tomb Raider hits theaters nationwide this Friday, March 16, 2018.