Oh my god, I am so excited for this.
Once again, this is an early screening that I was invited to, and I’m fairly positive this movie won’t be released for another year, so it’s likely this review will be shelved for quite some time, but who cares, it’s TOMB RAIDER!!
For those of you not in the know, Tomb Raider is a video game franchise that launched in 1996. Think a sexy female version of Indiana Jones. It was a beloved franchise for the most part and the first game is considered by many to be the best. I’d get into the specifics of the games, but this is about the movie. Of course, with anything popular, Hollywood loves its cash grabs and in 2001, they made a film adaptation of the video games called LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER, starring Angelina Jolie. Of course, as a kid, I enjoyed this film quite a bit, but now that I’m an adult… yeah, I still enjoy it. Oh, it’s not a good film, at all. It’s terribly written and completely gets Lara Croft’s character wrong by making her overly sexual, which is saying something since her video game counterpart is considered to be a sexy icon, but Jolie was a pitch perfect casting and the movie did capture an element of fun about it. Plus, humorous roll reversals with Jolie playing a British character and pre-007 Daniel Craig playing a southern American. Either way, bad, but entertaining. It made enough money to merit a sequel, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER – THE CRADLE OF LIFE (2003), which really catapulted this in the “so bad, it’s hilarious” territory that it effectively killed the film franchise. Sure, a sequel or a reboot has been in production hell for the better part of ten years, but it’s only been recently announced that it’s finally getting made.
In 2013, video game developers Crystal Dynamics and decided to reboot their franchise for the umpteenth time for the XBox 360, simply titled TOMB RAIDER. Despite some initial criticism from it’s demo reveal in E3, the game’s release was met with overwhelming praise for its next level grit, making Lara Croft a sympathetic and bad-ass character, arguably making the best installment of the Tomb Raider franchise since its inception into video games. It’s 2015 sequel RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER was met with the same reception. So what’s my take? I love these games. I think they’re amazing and oh so worth playing, mixing shooter, light parkour, puzzles, stealth, and action and fantasy elements perfectly to create one of my favorite video games of the last couple console generations. Yes, I think they’re that good.
I guess Hollywood acknowledges its popularity because it looks like they’ve made an adaptation of the TOMB RAIDER (2013) video game. But what’s even more exciting? IT’S STARRING ALICIA VIKANDER!!! If you can’t tell, I’m a fan. Vikander is my favorite thing to come out of 2015. I think she is an amazing actress, commands the screen, and has an outstanding range of being innocent, bad-ass, manipulative, even funny. So when I heard that she was slated to play Lara Croft, I was beyond excited and I still am.
I mean, look at her! Vikander IS Lara Croft! Not unlike Jolie who came before, she’s a dead-ringer as far as casting.
But now having looked on IMDb and seen what the official synopsis is… I’m less excited. What is it?
“Lara Croft, the fiercely independent daughter of a missing adventurer, must push herself beyond her limits when she finds herself on the island where her father disappeared.” – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1365519/?ref_=nv_sr_1
No, Hollywood. Just… no.
I can already feel the manipulation. In the video game, Lara’s father isn’t missing. He’s dead. He was murdered. Hence, the island she finds herself on, which I can only assume is Yamatai, is not where her father disappeared, or died. It has to be Yamatai because they have the character Mathias. In the game, Mathias is an insane cult leader who has been stranded on Yamatai since the 1980s.
Already this movie is straying too far from the video game, and this is a small-ass detail. Sure, Tomb Raider has been rebooted countless times, as well as Lara’s origins. All I can hope for is whatever changes they make, and it already looks like they’ve made a ton, that the character of Lara is well-written and with some great visuals. Here’s hoping when it finally comes out. But so far, I’m predicting that it’ll take the movie half an hour to get to the island, and take an hour to get to the supernatural occurrences, which is going to be a complete bummer. The video game opens on the island and the strangeness of it all before the title of the video game even pops up. How is this movie going to measure up to that?!
So, once again, this film is an early screening.
But let’s take a look at this cast. Starring, of course, is Alicia Vikander, known for TULIP FEVER (2017), THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS (2016), THE DANISH GIRL (2015), and the upcoming SUBMERGENCE (2018). In support, we have Daniel Wu (GEOSTORM  and WARCRAFT ), Walton Goggins (MAZE RUNNER 3 , THE BOURNE IDENTITY , THE NEXT KARATE KID , and upcoming films ANT-MAN AND THE WASP  and THEM THAT FOLLOW ), Dominic West (THE SQUARE , PUNISHER: WAR ZONE , and STAR WARS: PHANTOM ), Kristin Scott Thomas (THE PARTY , THE GOLDEN COMPASS , MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE , and upcoming films PARAMOUR  and THE MAN WHO SAVED PARIS ), and Derek Jacobi (MURDER IN THE ORIENT EXPRESS , CINDERELLA , UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION , and the upcoming SWORDS AND SCEPTERS ).
Now for the crew. Directing is Roar Uthaug, known for a bunch of unknown projects. Penning the screenplay is Geneva Robertson-Dworet, who is slated to write upcoming projects, CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019), and DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, GOTHAM CITY SIRENS, and SHERLOCK HOLMES 3, all of which have no announced release dates. Composing the score is Junkie XL, known for THE DARK TOWER (2017), POINT BREAK (2015), DIVERGENT (2014), and DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE (2006). The cinematographer is George Richmond, known for KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (2017), EDDIE THE EAGLE (2016), and KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2015).
Overall, I went from ECSTATIC, to pretty cautious. It’s a video game adaptation, in retrospect, and they don’t have a reputation of being good. I should probably brace myself for the worst case scenario. But here’s hoping that it’s better than I think, or is being presented.
This is my honest opinion of: TOMB RAIDER
Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is a tough and independent young woman trying to make ends meet without the use of her late father’s wealth, whom disappeared seven years prior. Having been convinced to try and claim Richard Croft (Dominic West) deceased, she inherits a final trinket that Lara discovers is a key to an underground room on the grounds of her family estate and learns that Richard wasn’t simply a business man, but was involved with a shady organization known as Trinity. She also learns of the location of an island where she believes her father disappeared in. Seeking the help of a boat captain in Honk Kong named Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), they travel to the lost island kingdom of Yamatai, home of the ancient evil ruler, Himiko.
The crappy video game curse is not broken. Where do I even start?
Well, this movie’s first thirty minutes could have been removed almost entirely. Not even joking, the plot doesn’t really kick in until the fifteen twenty minute mark. The movie opens on Lara in an MMA gym, transitioning into her having a courier bike day-job, transitioning into an enormously pointless “fox chase” scene, culminating in her in the police station. Very little, if any of this, is necessary. Arguably, the story doesn’t really kick off until Lara arrives at her father’s company building where she has to sign away that her father is dead and gets the key to her family’s burial plot on the grounds of her home. But then another detour is made when she leaves for Japan and gets robbed by some street punks, resulting in some pointless dialog trying to convince Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to go to Yamatai with her.
I admit… this was a sensible change, for the most part. In the video game, the Endurance’s captain was Grim, an old Scottish geezer with an enormous chip on his shoulder, but a fiercely protective and kind man, who is still a bad-ass in his own right. While still much more of an interesting character than Lu, it does make a bit more sense to make the Endurance captain Japanese. Whether this was happenstance or by design, I can’t say, but considering that Yamatai is within the… Japanese area, it makes sense that the Endurance would be leaving from a Japanese port, hence a Japanese captain of a ship. My only real complaint is that Lu could have still been named Grim, as a nickname like the game’s character, and could have been a bad-ass old man. The only thing they got right is that he’s a drunk… but that can describe most ship captains in all storytelling mediums.
But more on this first half hour. I may be able to submit to the idea of Lara being a trained MMA fighter. The worst thing this movie could have done is give her that training, but whenever trouble finds her, constantly needing someone else, or luck, to save her. There’s at least two good scenes of her utilizing her skills. So it’s not a wasted, or pointless addition to her character. Having said that… don’t those skills take away from the obstacles she has to overcome? Compare this to the game. Lara is a bookworm. A wannabe archaeologist. She’s a borderline student in university. She’s no fighter. She’s trained to survive in the wilderness. She fashions bows and arrows, can read the land and stars to navigate her area, she can hunt wild game, and can climb rock walls with only a climbing axe at her disposal. So when she’s faced with a Solarii bastard trying to kill her, the danger she faces is more engaging and dire because it’s established that she’s not a warrior. Sure, she eventually nabs a pistol, assault rifle, and shotgun, but the gun-toting thing only comes along for an escalated need for survival. Can’t go running around with a fist full of rocks and a bow and arrows when faced with an army of psychotic assholes with assault rifles and grenades. The point is, she has to learn how to be a killer. She has to learn how to be a bad-ass. Through trials and tribulations, she learns to let go of the innocent young woman she used to be and adapt to becoming someone who won’t be taken without a fight. Compare this to film-Lara. She’s already a bad-ass. She trains in a gym and has experience with taking a fist to the face. So when she’s faced with a dude with a gun… what’s the danger? Okay, sure, she’s not always armed and… bizarrely never arms herself with a firearm of any kind throughout the flick, but it’s apparent that she has fewer personal hurdles to overcome. She’s already not afraid to fight. She’s already okay with hurting people. She doesn’t have any gaps of learning to overcome because they’re already compensated for, which makes her feel less interesting than game-Lara. But this is the purist in me talking. I can’t deny that at least the movie does something with her fighting skills.
Maybe it’s the Jack and coke (and one glass of Rosé) in me talking, but you know how I think the movie should have opened? Cut out the following: the MMA training, the day job, definitely the fox chase, by heavenly Jesus, that fox chase was pointless, and the backpack chase later on. Imagine if all you got was Lara walking along the Japanese docks, while in a voice-over, we hear Richard Croft’s speech, “I wasn’t all board rooms, I did some shady shit, burn everything to Trinity can’t ever have it, Lara,” and then she finds Lu Ren and says, “Yo, I need you to take me somewhere!” And then, TITLE CARD! Re-open to the storm that brings them to the island of Yamatai, start movie. Really picture that. Doesn’t that seem just a little too sensible? Thirty minutes of the film has been condensed to two minutes, AT WORST. Already, you’ve established that she’s defiant, determined, reckless, and a loving daughter to a missing father, all in a scene that’s got one single line from Lara. But this movie thinks that it needs three extended scenes dedicated to showcasing her recklessness and bad-assery.
Which means, there’s an excess of twenty or so minutes that’s untouched. What can you fill that in with? Why, the fantasy elements, of course. Yeah, there’s no fantasy in this movie, which is what Tomb Raider is known to have. Instead of tapping into incredible and even disturbing visuals involving Himiko transferring her soul inside another person, you’ve got… a corpse that has a fast-acting killer virus. Um… screw you too, filmmakers. This isn’t National Treasure, which doesn’t tap into magic. It’s supposed to be more like Indiana Jones, which does. What the hell happened?! Who chose to go this route with the franchise?! Lame!
Let’s talk about Vikander as Lara. Honestly, when it’s the character that this movie is trying to portray, then she’s actually kind of perfect. Sadly, there are inconsistencies. It’s very apparent what this movie was setting out to do. They were trying to loosely base Lara on the video game character, but wanted her to move in the direction of the Angelina Jolie version. This is evidenced by her reckless and cocky attitude, which is who Jolie’s character was. However, this attitude is instantly dropped from the rest of the film the moment she reaches Yamatai, and it’s only then where the video game personality comes in. Now she’s vulnerable. Now she’s emotional. What was the point in establishing her cocky attitude if it wasn’t going to hold up for the rest of the movie? There are plenty of moments where she could have spouted a one-liner, or been defiant, but she’s quiet and scared. What the hell happened? And that’s one of the biggest negatives of Lara: she has no character arch. Really think about it. From the moment the story begins and when it ends, what has she become? What has she learned? Where did her personality go, versus where it started? There is no difference. Her character doesn’t change. At least, not in any meaningful way. As a gamer, I see the glimpses of the video game character, but as the presented package, Lara doesn’t change all that much, rendering Vikander’s talent pointless. Had the movie been more faithful to the game, she would have been given more meat to chew on, but as is, it’s all bone.
There is a ton stupid story elements.
Smaller problems include clichés, like the step-child doesn’t get along with the step-parent (Lara and Ana were on good terms in the video game), as well as a drunken boat captain. Apparently, Richard Croft is too rich to actually kiss his daughter physically, so he opts to kiss his two fingers and touch her forehead. That really takes the intimacy out of the moment and just seems… odd. I get that parents and kids sometimes develop their own “things” with each other, similar to fancy handshakes between kids, but this felt really stupid and disingenuous. The movie actually bleeps out the “F” word once, maybe twice. When Lu Ren causes a distraction to give Lara the opportunity to run, why didn’t he escape with her? Don’t give me bullshit that he was there to be with the other prisoners because we don’t know anything about them other than someone said that they saw his dad was killed by Mathias. That’s not enough to develop an emotional connection. Derek Jacobi is wasted playing a dumb-ass lawyer.
“The first letter of my final destination.”
“Letter?” He didn’t leave a letter.
Really, dude? No one was thinking about a written letter. No one.
Is it just me, or is Richard a dumb-ass? The whole movie kicks off because of his lack of foresight. Think about it. He leaves Lara a Japanese puzzle box which has a key in it, which takes her to the family burial grounds, which has a secret office layer (morbid choice), and a video tape that essentially tells Lara to burn everything so Trinity can’t find it. But of course, Lara’s goes to Yamatai to find her father, and he gets pissy that she didn’t listen to his message. Here’s an idea, you dumb-ass, destroy the key to the burial grounds! It’s perfectly hidden! The best way to keep a secret is to not tell anyone! And he really didn’t anticipate her next move would be to find him? By giving her that key, he opened not just a door, but the possibility that she’d get involved in all of his craziness.
Also, here’s a question for the movie. Why can’t anyone leave? In Richard’s cave, we see writing on papers that reads, “No one leaves.” Why not? I understand why Trinity can’t leave. They’re under orders to find Himiko’s remains. But how does that explain Richard? He can build a raft and easily leave. The storm that destroys the Endurance aren’t twenty-four-seven. And also, he chooses to stay to keep an eye on Trinity, to keep them away from Himiko. When you write down “No one escapes” in red ink, this is usually a tell-tale of insanity. This isn’t a supernatural case of “something is keeping me here,” no, it’s that he didn’t want to escape. This would have made sense if they’d kept the fantasy elements from the video game, though. The storm that destroys the Endurance is not a natural storm. Himiko controlled the island through magic. No one could leave because Himiko didn’t allow it. People crashed on Yamatai because that’s what she wanted. Destroy Himiko, the storm disappears and everyone’s free to leave. But that’s not the movie. Nope, it’s just a senseless “Richard is crazy” subplot, which contributes nothing to his character.
There’s only a few things I give this movie credit for.
Months ago, when I first saw this movie at my private screening, the effects weren’t completed. But the sets were very impressive. The scene in Japan, for example, that entire set is massive. Only the Japan background was digital, but the docks were all a practical set. I was very impressed with that. I also admit that Goggins, while certainly not in any way the Mathias from the video game, and is a one-dimensional bad-guy, is still a lot of fun as the villain. He’s got those crazy eyes, which legitimately gives him a sense of intimidation, so thumbs up for him. Also, the some of the more environmental dangers that Lara faces that are from the video game are admitted done very well and smart. Lara going down raging rapids, climbing on a crashed airplane that’s falling apart, using a parachute to survive a death drop, and getting thrashed by tree branches all the way down, that was intense and even a little awesome, even throwing in the impaled injury to her side. That was pretty great.
Overall, this movie is not good. The first quarter of the film is all fluff, the characters are developed in meaningless ways, or are straight up dull, and there is so… much… dumb littered throughout the story. Some action scenes are okay, Vikander looks great as Lara, and Goggins is pretty entertaining, but beyond that, the video game is objectively better in nearly every way possible. I don’t recommend this in cinemas, nor do I recommend it as a rental. It’s not the worst movie based on a video game, in fact, it’s one of the better ones, but that doesn’t say a whole lot. I don’t even recommend it as a rental, but if you want to see it in that way, viewer beware is all I can say. This is not the right kind of Croft.
My honest rating for TOMB RAIDER: a weak 3/5