Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 10, 2018)
Every time I review a movie based on a video game, I note that in the US, 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider remains the box office champ. Would 2018’s series reboot Tomb Raider alter that status?
Nope. Though it did fairly well overseas, Tomb Raider fizzled in the US, where its $57 million gross wasn’t even half of what the 2001 movie made. That non-US take might be enough to prompt a sequel, but the returns must disappoint the studio, as I’m sure they expected much more from the reboot.
Adventurer Richard Croft (Dominic West) disappeared when his daughter Lara was 15 and lands in the “presumed dead” file. Now 21 (Alicia Vikander), she leads a fairly aimless life and lacks much purpose. She also finds herself broke, as she refuses to accept her massive inheritance.
That’s because Lara believes her father’s still alive, and she decides to try to solve the mystery. This leads her on an action-packed mission fraught with peril.
Norwegian director Roar Uthaug got noticed via the relative success of his 2015 disaster movie The Wave. I didn’t get the appeal, as I thought it offered a generic affair, but that film seems to be the reason he got his shot at the “big time” with Tomb Raider.
Unfortunately, Raider does nothing to alter my estimation of Uthaug’s talents. Thoroughly, relentlessly mediocre, the film fails to become anything especially compelling.
Not that Uthaug doesn’t work overtime to deliver the goods, as he throws out plenty of action. However, Raider comes with an odd balance in that regard, as it drops in these beats at awkward times.
Raider opens with Lara in an MMA bout, and she soon goes on a bike race that sends her on a mad dash through London. These sequences feel gratuitous, like Uthaug wants to stun us with action right out of the gate.
The movie might work better if it used these early moments for character development, as it takes a while for the film to really motivate Lara to a great degree. The early action seems a little desperate, like Uthaug fears the viewer will abandon ship if it doesn’t rock and sock from the get-go.
After this, we find many more action scenes, but the pacing of these sequences feels off. The movie goes down long dull stretches before stabs at thrills pop up, and they often come out of nowhere.
In truth, little about the development of the narrative feels natural, and the script rarely threatens to turn into anything engaging. Raider comes with a fairly simple story that it complicates in needless ways, and it never adds enough charge to make us care what happens along the way.
Raider walks a fine line in that it wants a more “reality-based” experience than the 2001 film but it still tries to keep us thrilled. It doesn’t quite work, as the movie can’t figure out how to connect the franchise’s “female Indiana Jones” theme with its take on matters.
Because of this, the movie fails to deliver a particularly satisfying sense of adventure. It feels less like a grand action experience and more like the meanderings of a young woman with daddy issues.
Though the original Croft films didn’t soar, I did like Angelina Jolie’s take on the character, as she offered a fine mix of tough, skilled, sexy and intelligent. While I think Vikander boasts a lot of talent, she feels ill-cast as Lara and never comes across as especially convincing.
Granted, Raider provides something of an “origin story” for the role, so it makes sense that Vikander’s Lara lacks the self-assurance and skill of Jolie’s. Still, I think Vikander feels too tentative, and she lacks the qualities necessary to flesh out the character.
Perhaps she’ll develop as the years progress and I’ll change my mind, but right now, I simply think Vikander lacks the “Action Star Gene” that Jolie and Charlize Theron possess. Though she doesn’t flop in the role, Vikander can’t bring the presence Lara needs to become a convincing adventure character.
Probably the biggest sin I find here comes from a general lack of purpose or narrative movement, though. The basic “tomb raiding” aspect of the plot doesn’t boast much to entice the viewer and the film’s stabs at action don’t compensate.
None of these factors make Tomb Raider a bad movie, but it can’t find its way to elevate above the level of general mediocrity. Maybe we’ll get a strong re-reboot of the franchise in 2035, but the 2018 movie lacks much energy or excitement.