Uncover The Secrets, Solve The Mystery
Following the disappearance of her father Lord Richard Croft [West], Lara Croft [Vikander] is unable to accept the possibility of her father’s death and refuses to sign over documents allowing her to inherit her father’s vast fortune, company and estate. Finally coming to terms with the likelihood that he will not return after a decade, she intends on signing the relevant forms but is side-tracked by a puzzle-box left in her father’s will. The puzzle leads Lara to a secluded subterranean office wherein Richard tells his daughter of a legendary Japanese tomb and the powerful sorceress Himiko who is buried there. Believing her father may still be on this island, Lara pawns her property and takes a flight to Hong Kong; there she convinces a down-on-his-luck sailor, Lu Ren [Wu], to charter a course to one of several tiny Japanese islands and uncover the mystery behind Himiko’s burial.
Seeing as there are so few positives, let’s get them out of the way. Firstly, the locations are really picturesque and very well shot, giving a definite sense of global adventurism that the series requires. Second, the action scenes are choreographed and edited decently with sparing use of CGI and a pleasing and engaging frenetic style. And the only other thing that leaps to mind is that it’s not completely awful. It would have been very easy for this to be a sloppy convoluted mess *cough* early 2000’s films *cough* but drawing from the aesthetic of the recent Tomb Raider reboot video game has helped immensely.
Having said that, we have to address one of this film’s major issues; the performances are all incredibly flat. The most interesting character is arguably Lu Ren and he’s criminally underused once they reach the island itself. But Lara Croft is key; the franchise has never really enjoyed strong supporting roles from the games or the films and Croft, equally, isn’t that interesting a character, she’s the star of the show so needs to work for anything to succeed. So let’s discuss the paradox that is 2018’s Lara Croft. Croft is an heiress but to make her relatable in these economically difficult times, she is also a plucky and resourceful individual who would rather make her own way in the world. While commendable to a degree that’s also a bit of a slap in the face to people like the gym owner and fellow bike couriers who she either owes money to or is taking the earning opportunity from; especially when we learn she has access to a vast fortune should she literally sign a piece of paper. But that aside, we have the issue of theory over practical; the films goes out of its way with expositional ground work to highlight that Croft is physical and mentally capable to undertake the various pending tomb raiding tasks but it still seems convenient that she is so very deft on her first try. Having said that, I can see how the script tries to course-correct by having her go through so many physical trials and tribulations that involve getting beaten, battered, impaled and shot at. Then there’s the matter of her being extremely reactive but if I’m brutally honest, even Indiana Jones loses a great deal of proactivity when simply following clues down a linear catacomb, so I feel that’s more a trapping of the genre itself. But as far as performance goes, Vikander does her best with what’s she’s given and handles her own extremely well – even if the dialogue is laughable at times.
Outside of Croft and Lu we have Lara’s father Richard, who performs the well-worn mentor role without real deviation and the villainous Vogel boils down to little more than a henchman and while he executes a prisoner or two, he never really reaches the peaks and troughs of entertainment, prosaically limping from start to end. But that could easily extend to the rest of the film, never reaching the giddy heights through the action set-pieces and emotional connections that, frankly, no one really cares about yet never sinking to the depths of complete hilarity in its ineptitude; ultimately leaving us with a very energetic but thoroughly dull release.
As stated before, drawing on the more recent games, Tomb Raider likes to wear its realism on its torn, bloody sleeve but upon closer investigation it’s clearly merely a printed design. Sure, there’s a level of James Bond/Jason Bourne action set pieces packed with lifelike wounds but then Lara will make a twenty metre leap across a collapsing cavern, armed only with a pick-axe, managing to pull herself up and run to safety. Again, this is arguably true of most if not all action films but when a film spends so long saying “take me seriously, I’m going to bring you on an authentic and life-threatening thrill ride” you can’t then turn around and say “did I not mention Lara is super-human?” For a prime example, there’s stupid rusty plane sequence which tells us everything we need to know about the action throughout. With her hands bound, Lara is fighting a river’s current as it heads to a waterfall. Before going over the edge, she reaches a rusted World War II bomber and navigates her way across the wing before it crumbles. Safely inside the cockpit, the remainder of the plane starts to shift and she makes her way out before it goes over the edge and she bounces around inside before opening a half-torn parachute and crashing through the treeline. I mean, she gets hurt on the way down, so it kind of works and the physics of it all isn’t awful.. but she’d be dead.
**heavy spoilers throughout this paragraph**
Returning to the positives for a second, the score is fairly reasonable but considering Tom Holkenborg’s other work, it’s pretty lacklustre. There is also the interesting decision to fight the supernatural. To separate itself from both the Indiana Jones films and previous Tomb Raider features, all mystical elements have been relegated to legend and superstition. What’s more interesting and genuinely nearly redeems the entire feature, is the history behind the myth. Finally entering Himiko’s tomb, the artwork that adorns the wall portrays her in a positive light, as a saviour. Through this we learn that to save the world, Himiko, her handmaids and entire army were sacrificed to contain a deadly, fast-acting disease, of which she was a carrier. This is wonderful because it offers a bit of insight into how we as a species mythologise and turn factual events into largely fictionalised or embellished legend.
A lot of the components – from the set design, the cinematography and acting calibre – are all primed for a budding franchise that should be a glorious success but the ultimate failing is the script which levels out as very mediocre and paint-by-numbers. Video game adaptations have always been troublesome and while I personally enjoyed Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed, they aren’t reaching the same heights in terms of revenue success or dramatic prowess. Tomb Raider succeeds in that it is an entertaining romp but, again, because of this wholly average script, fails to emulate the successes of its digital counterpart.
16th March 2018
The Scene To Look Out For:
At the start of the film, Lara is shown to be a bike courier and, desperate for money, takes part in an illegal race called a “foxhunt.” I rather hated this scene. The actual hunt itself makes sense, it’s just a bicycle race through London, with a series of pursuers chasing a cyclist who has a fox tale attached to their bike and a dripping can of paint detailing her route. I understand it’s thematic and narrative purpose but it irked me mostly for how it was introduced. Having said that, I did appreciate how it ended – which felt like the most realistic conclusion.
So on this island of enslaved people, all of whom are working under the keen eye of Vogel, all the henchmen are burly, grubby men armed with guns. For a film with a prominent female character, I was quite surprised that there was almost no other female presence in this film. I know there’s a little twist at the end, which I won’t mention as it’s just franchise bait, but it feels like a remarkably weak step backward. Why are the henchmen all men? Why are the workers all men? If the answer is because they are stronger or more ruthless, surely that clashes with the premise that Lara (a woman) can do anything a man can do? I dunno, just bugged me.
“Wait.. it’s a colour puzzle”
In A Few Words:
“A fairly middling release whose greatest crime is its disappointing aridity”