Tomb Raider is the latest in what is becoming a series of video game movies, many of which have been commissioned in order to catapult off the success of the comic book movie industry, which is booming right now. But Tomb Raider has an uphill struggle right off the bat, for a start it has to be not only an adaptation of the game, it also has to re-boot a franchise which had already been adapted to film previously. In case anyone is wondering, no I am not a fan of the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider films, personally, while I think they had their awesome moments, they ultimately fell at the first hurdle. Angelina Jolie does feel slightly miscast.
When the new Lara Croft film was announced, I was personally kind of optimistic when I saw the trailer for it and especially when I heard about the casting of Alicia Vikander, the Oscar winning actress of the Danish Girl being placed into the lead role. It ultimately also came down to the director and that’s where it gets kind of interesting. The film is directed by Roar Uthaug, a Norwegian film director with a somewhat middling career. From what I have gathered, because I have never seen any of his films, he has never made anything terrible, but he has also never made anything great either. But again, that is based purely on other’s opinions. So, how does this new Tomb Raider turn out?
Tomb Raider, as usual is the story of Lara Croft, played by Alicia Vikander who after the disappearance of her father Lord Richard Croft on an expedition, played by Dominic West, goes to find him in the hopes of bringing him home, if he is still alive out there, or at least discover what fated him, after being presented with his last puzzle to her by her guardian Ana Miller, played by Kristin Scott Thomas. This leads her to an island in Japan, where a group called Trinity, whose intention is to uncover the Tomb of the deadly Japanese Queen, who supposedly can be the lord of death, led by Mathias Vogel, played by Walton Goggins.
Yes, that’s pretty much the film in a nutshell. Tomb Raider is not really breaking many clichés. It does them very well, but don’t go into this expecting anything new. The film is largely based off the recent rebooted games, which is hardly surprising, considering Square Enix, the current holders for the licence were involved in the production. As a result, people familiar with the previous film might be surprised by certain aspects of this character. For example, the new games sort of dropped her double pistols in favour of a bow and arrow, which she used for most of this film. The character is also not as confident as the Angelina Jolie character, since this is a character just starting out. One of the things I really appreciated about this film is that they didn’t go down the route of the first film of Lara being pure sex appeal and wish fulfilment. They actually give a lot more of a character to her, again which is rather indicative of the recent rebooted video game franchise. There certainly are elements of the previous incarnation and a lot of her back story has been brought back for it. The new games though give a sense of survivalist, rather than just an archaeologist, which is rather reflected in the film since it takes quite a long time into the film to get to the tomb. The film runs at one hundred and eighteen minutes in total, but it does take quite a while for anything plot significant to happen. I think this is down to a couple of factors, the major one being that this film has to introduce Lara Croft, introduce this world and get us to know the cast pretty well. It does a decent job of it and that’s where I think the film truly succeeds. Some of the best action sequences are quite early on, including a very good cycle chase throughout London at the beginning and a par ore running scene in the dock of Hong Kong is also another great one. Despite having a Norwegian director, the film feels very British in a sense, and it’s not just down to the casting of Alicia Vikander and Dominic West, other cream of the crop British talent seem to be turning up for the film, including the previously mention Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi and even Nick Frost has a cameo in the film because all of these movies seem to want to have a cameo from a well known celebrity nerd.
The film also shoots London incredibly well. Many films, both British and abroad tend to over romanticise London and don’t really portray large side of it, the Paddington films for example certainly do this, but I let that one slide because it’s meant to be based on a children’s book. Tomb Raider probably does a really good job of showing the various contrasts to the city and the location shots are done incredibly well. I fear for the amount of people that had to take the tube to work because they had to close the roads for the previously mentioned bike chase scene, considering just how many cyclists were involved in it.
But if there is one thing that really makes this film excel, it’s Lara herself. Vikander clearly shows in interviews how much she cares about the character and does a very good portraying her. Unlike the Jolie performance, she does show the character having flaws and fears and she plays this role very well. I also, really want to say that she did a phenomenal job getting into shape for the role and did some excellent training since she does an excellent job in the action scenes. Her dedication to the character definitely succeeds. Where she is let down, however, is with the editor. Now some of these scenes are shot fantastically and when they are on point they are phenomenal, this film has some excellent tracking shots and when scenes are allowed to just play, they work out quite well. The problem is that some of the scenes were edited appallingly, some scenes have way too many quick cuts, so as a result it’s very difficult to tell what is going on since by the time you come to your senses of what angle we are seeing the scene at now, the thing has already happened. If you are going to put that much effort into getting Vikander to do all of these stunts, some of which she had to do reshoots for, you could at least do a good job editing those scenes to show the effort that was put in to choreographing them. I will say, this is a minor complaint and none of the action scenes are wholly bad.
I think many people will be surprised that this Tomb Raider film is based on Japanese Mythology, though I suspect this is also a concession to Asian audiences since it was a co-production with Square Enix. I actually found it very surprising that a film about Japanese Mythology didn’t have any Japanese actors. I don’t understand why the villain augmentation didn’t bring on anyone who can speak Japanese when breaking into an ancient Japanese tomb. Real smart guys!!
There is not much of a supporting cast in this film. Daniel Wu is pretty good in his role, playing the ships captain who takes Lara to the island, even if he has one of the quickest character turns that I have seen and a lot of aspects of his character aren’t really addressed all that much, and I know Walton Goggins is trying his best, but he is playing a boring villain. He actually starts out quite interesting and early on I thought he was going to be a good villain. But good god, he gets boring really fast and he ultimately feels rather ineffective since he doesn’t really do much in the film. He ultimately has a motive that he doesn’t really care what is in the tomb, he just wants to bring something back to his bosses so he can go home to his family. But this creates total whiplash. On the one hand they want us to think of him as an evil villain that we want to hate, but at the same time they want us to by sympathetic to his motives and you can’t have it both ways. It’s what I like to refer to as Danny DeVito playing the Penguin syndrome.
The plot is also really kind of start stop in this film as well. It felt like some portions of the film were really just like one long action scene, but I will say they at least captured the look and the feel of Tomb Raider, many video games do make attempts but ultimately fail in that regard, I am looking at you Assassin’s Creed film!! But at least this one feels like it has been thought through. Some of the set designs and some of the scenes look like they were taken directly out of the game and it is clear the directors and the writers understood their source material.
In short, I think Tomb Raider is pretty good, I don’t think it’s great all things considered, the pacing of the film doesn’t quite work and the plot has the attitude of ‘just do an action scene to keep it going, because it’s actually quite thin’ and there are lots of portions that kind of don’t make sense, but I think it’s pretty good, all things considered. It was certainly better than I was expecting. Vikander is pretty good in the lead role and I wouldn’t mind seeing her play Lara again in some capacity. Whilst the film’s action scenes are compromised in some places they are ultimately pretty decently made, there are some good tracking shots, the acting is pretty decent from the rest of the board. If it had better villains I think I would have given this one a bit more of a pass. But ultimately, this was better than I was expecting and I think anyone on the fence about this one should give it a go. By the way do not see this film in 3D like I did, some of these shots are so dark, the 3D glasses make them almost impossible to see, for the love of god, how many times do I have to say “3D works well when there is plenty of light so the darkening effect of the glasses doesn’t compromise your film viewing”, why is that so difficult to understand!! The film does close with a mid-credit scene and there is set up for the possibility if a sequel, and I would certainly like to see one, because I honestly preferred this film to both of the Angelina Jolie films, simply because I think this had a much better main character.
Next time, I review Pacific Rim Uprising.
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