At the opening of the new “Tomb Raider” film, our heroine, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), gets beaten quite badly while sparring in the ring. The scene is poorly shot, with quick cuts and a bouncing camera that make it difficult to discern exactly what is taking place outside of Lara losing. Beyond that, however, it lets the audience know that later in the film, under similar circumstances, Lara will win such a fight. Unfortunately, when that moment comes, there is absolutely no reason that Lara is able to win. There has been no arc that taught her what she lacked to succeed in the ring at the start of the movie.
Directed by Roar Uthaug (“The Wave”), the film is full of such logic faults. It happens during the climactic fight against the film’s villain, Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), when Lara fails to win the battle in the most easy, obvious, 100% sure-fire route for success. Instead, she opts for a much more dramatic way to go, presumably so that the film can emulate moments from the videogame franchise.
At another point, when Lara meets a character from her past who believes her to be a figment of his imagination, she gives him the old “it’s really me because I’m the only one who would know this about our shared history” thing. The film fails to recognize that this technique only works with doppelgangers and not figments of one’s own imagination, as the figment has the knowledge of the person doing the imagining.
When it comes to puzzle-solving, the movie only sometimes explains the puzzles Lara is working out. At other points she just solves them, which works about as well as watching Sherlock Holmes declare who the murderer is without ever getting the monologue about how he saw a bit of fluff on the man’s right shoulder which, combined with his dirty right pinky, offered the only possible solution to the crime.
The new “Tomb Raider” then is not a thinking person’s film. It is a film meant to evoke action and excitement and adventure. It does this best when emulating moments from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” and there are certainly points when one expects the characters to start wholly borrowing dialogue from that, superior, work.
As noted in the first paragraph though, Uthaug’s filmmaking style here fails to be compelling. During action sequences it is regularly far too difficult to see what is happening, and sometimes what one does see looks fake, as with moments with an airplane near a waterfall. Those in the audience regularly get the sense of what is taking place, the general feel of it all, but the moments are not as compelling at they would be if we could truly see Vikander’s Croft doing what the movie implies is taking place.
In moments when one can actually see Vikander in action or simply standing around talking, the actress offers a forceful persona. She commands the screen, truly making the audience believe in her character and her character’s predicament, no matter how silly. It happens in board rooms as she’s talking with Kristin Scott Thomas’s Ana Miller or Derek Jacobi’s Mr. Yaffi, just as it occurs when she’s dealing with Vogel or a drunken sea captain Lu Ren, played by Daniel Wu.
The story, which is better left alone, deals with Croft following in the footsteps of her father, Richard Croft (Dominic West), who disappeared in search of a tomb of a supposedly deadly Japanese queen, Himiko, years earlier. It is on the island where Himiko’s body allegedly resides that she encounters Vogel and learns more about a deadly group known as Trinity. Too many of the questions that come up in the plot as Lara explores both at home and abroad are never dealt with, making it clear well before the film actually ends that we are being setup for a sequel.
Is there enough here however to make a sequel worth it?
Perhaps surprisingly if you’ve read the above, yes, there is, and that is really just due to Vikander’s Croft. This rendition of the character is much more down to Earth than the version played by Angelina Jolie, just as occurred with the reborn character in the game franchise when compared to the older games. Croft is not yet an expert tomb raider and watching her get better at that could very well make for an interesting series of movies. That said, again, the character development in this opening effort is weak.
This new “Tomb Raider” is a film that works best not for what it is, but rather what one imagines it could be. The basic building blocks are all there, but they haven’t been assembled particularly well. If they get another shot, maybe they’ll get it right with the sequel.
photo credit: Warner Bros. Pictures