I went to see Tomb Raider during the weekend. I suspected it would be a terrible film, not just because everything shown so far gave me that impression but because it’s a video game adaptation and they’re usually terrible.
But nothing prepared me for just how bad this film is. On the surface it’s a workable adventure film, full of action sequences to keep you entertained, and the set pieces are great, they’re impressive in fact. The problem is that nothing else is.
In this version of Tomb Raider, Lara isn’t an archaeologist, let alone a student of it. She doesn’t have the knowledge or expertise in ancient cultures. She just has a knack for solving puzzles, a risk-taking personality, borderline destructive, and isn’t rich. At least not from the start.
This Lara works as a courier in London, failing to make ends meet and taking stupid risks for a bit of cash. She inevitably ends up in jail, after the most intense bike ride in recent film memory, only to have a family acquaintance bail her out and urge her to “follow in her father’s footsteps,” which is the central theme of film, and accept the family inheritance.
In original Tomb Raider games, Lara’s father disowned her for being her adventuring self. In the Crystal Dynamics Legend saga, her father was a disgraced scholar who sought the supernatural to the point of peer ridicule. In the reboot series, as far as Lara knew, he had the same obsession and blew his brains out, only for Lara to find him dead. In this one, he just didn’t make it back from a trip. Everyone says he’s dead but she refuses to believe it, as there was no trace of him. Doesn’t surprise me that out of all the versions, it’s the film that has the weakest one, he just went away and the unconfirmed death should tell you everything you need to know about this film. Yes, it’s that predictable and by the numbers.
After leaving jail, she goes to accept the fortune, if only because otherwise her family would lose the Croft Manor, but when she’s about to sign, she finds a clue left by her father that leads her to his secret study, where a videotape from him tells her to erase every bit of his research on Yamatai if he’s dead, though he knows it’s Lara watching, because of course he knew she would deduce it, even considering he’s been considered dead for about 7 years. Quite the coincidence, huh?
He also mentions Trinity, an organisation trying to control supernatural artefacts for their own gain. Lara dismisses it but still travels abroad following her father’s footsteps, meeting Daniel Wu’s character and capsizing on the way to Yamatai and captured by Trinity, who regularly watch the beach during storm apparently. Only way I can explain it since they capture her within a nanosecond of her showing up on the beach.
Eventually Lara escapes, makes some discoveries and starts killing people and solving puzzles, kicking ass. All good, right?
Not exactly. As I mentioned the action pieces are great, the puzzle solving scenes, about two major scenes, are a nice touch, but conversations and the script in general are just terrible. And it’s not the case, because most people there are acting badasses, but even their talents can’t make the quips, one-liners and info dumps sound compelling, interesting or even natural, with Vikander and Wu’s conversations being the worst among them. Hell, Wu’s conversations in Chinese with the other Trinity prisoners are way more believable.
The film lifts many things from the video games but it does so without the context and depth, without mentioning the things that don’t make any sense. Lara capsizes on Yamatai and someone she meets has the drawing of the island with the circle saying “no way out,” yet there isn’t a supernatural storm keeping them there. Hell, the villains get supply drops.
Lara’s first kill makes no logical sense, not in how the bad guy finds her, tracking her down in a few short hours when the distance between them is enormous and there isn’t a solid trail. Daniel Wu’s character goes from drunken captain to one-man army in the blink of an eye, taking out the most useless soldiers in the world. The film makes the classical and stupid mistake of showing the villains miss shots at close proximity and in a straight line.
When Lara infiltrates their camp and takes them out with a bow and arrow, it’s not in the middle of the night but in smack daylight and the suspension of disbelief needed to accept that no one sees her, despite the horrendously incompetent stealth, is just too much for me. I can accept that she survives astoundingly lethal fall from the waterfall, parachute included, but that no one saw her in that scene? Yeah, no, sorry.
I could go on, explaining every plot hole, everything nonsensical wrapped in either an action scene or a game reference, but suffice it to say, the fan pandering of this film and the overabundance of action scenes only serve to mask the inadequacies of the script and the narrative.
And that’s without even getting to the fact that Lara Croft doesn’t have a Lara-centric story. It’s not her tale, she’s not the one taking the initiative. In the game, Yamatai is her damn idea, and she’s done the research. Here’s she’s following a breadcrumb trail. The villains and all other characters are men, when Tomb Raider has some really cool female villains they could’ve used. They even change Himiko’s role in the story, into something much shallower, a simple McGuffin whose major revelation only manages to disappoint.
And despite Vikander’s best efforts, she’s saddled with a bland Lara, one that lacks any of the traits that have made her character a long-lasting fixture of the gaming industry. She lacks the confidence and wit of the original and she lacks the determination and audacity of the new one. This Lara isn’t a trailblazer, she’s a follower and that’s the biggest crime of this film. Well, that and the fact that it’s more or less a re-tread of the first Angelina Jolie film, including a guy from a shady organisation claiming to kill her father years ago.
Tomb Raider has the star power to deliver a great experience, but it lacks everything else needed. It takes elements from the game, but not soul of it, leaving you with a Lara Croft that doesn’t feel genuine, and attempts to mask it all in references and action scenes.
It’s yet another in a long line of adaptation origin stories, when Vikander and Tomb Raider would have been better off with an established character and an original story, not just reboot video game greatest hits.
I will dedicate an entire spoiler-filled post at a later date to go over every issue I have with this film. I have never seen so many “Cinema Sins,” on the first viewing of a film.
2/5 – Mediocre!