Director: Roar Uthaug
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas
Runtime: 1 hr 58 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Warner Bros
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/TombRaiderMovie/
Opening Day: 8 March 2018
Synopsis: Lara Croft is the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer who vanished when she was scarcely a teen. Now a young woman of 21 without any real focus or purpose, Lara navigates the chaotic streets of trendy East London as a bike courier, barely making the rent, and takes college courses, rarely making it to class. Determined to forge her own path, she refuses to take the reins of her father’s global empire just as staunchly as she rejects the idea that he’s truly gone. Advised to face the facts and move forward after seven years without him, even Lara can’t understand what drives her to finally solve the puzzle of his mysterious death. Going explicitly against his final wishes, she leaves everything she knows behind in search of her dad’s last-known destination: a fabled tomb on a mythical island that might be somewhere off the coast of Japan. But her mission will not be an easy one; just reaching the island will be extremely treacherous. Suddenly, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Lara, who—against the odds and armed with only her sharp mind, blind faith and inherently stubborn spirit—must learn to push herself beyond her limits as she journeys into the unknown. If she survives this perilous adventure, it could be the making of her, earning her the name tomb raider.
Unlike say Wonder Woman, Lara Croft was less an icon of feminist empowerment than a geekboy’s wet dream, and as sexist as it sounds, the female English archaeologist has her place in pop culture as much because of her physical assets as her intelligence and athleticism. Yet to emphasise the former in this day and age would have been utterly anachronistic, which also explains why his big-screen reboot has opted for the critically lauded actress from ‘The Danish Girl’ and ‘Ex Machina’ than say a more well-endowed actress a la Angelina Jolie. With utmost respect to Jolie, Alicia Vikander proves herself to be a much more engaging Lara Croft than Jolie was in the earlier two ‘Tomb Raider’ feature films, even though the movie itself isn’t quite as impressive as it needs to be to justify its existence.
Like most such reboots are oft to do, this one takes the route of an origin story – here, the screenwriting duo of Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons (working off a story credited to Evan Daugherty and Robertson-Dworet) reimagine Lara as a 21-year-old bike courier on the streets of East London who is struggling to make ends meet. When we first meet her, she’s engaged in an intense boxing match that she eventually loses, but not without demonstrating her tenacity by refusing to tap out until she almost loses consciousness. That same fierce independence is the reason why she hasn’t signed the papers to claim her father’s inheritance since his disappearance seven years ago, although when her aunt Ana (Kristin Scott Thomas) tells her the estate would be sold if she doesn’t, Lara acquiesces by turning up at the offices of her father’s company Croft Holdings.
Besides the papers, the lawyer hands her a wooden puzzle that opens up to reveal a key and a message which points her to her late mother’s niche within the family memorial. There, she finds her father’s secret office, learns of the legend of Himiko which he was pursuing, and follows a string of clues to try to track down his whereabouts. That journey will lead her first to Hong Kong’s iconic floating village Aberdeen, where she meets the boatman Lu Ren (a criminally underused Daniel Wu) who leads her to the Japanese island of Yamatai where her father had vanished. You can pretty much guess how it unfolds from that point – Lara will fall into bad company (led by Walton Goggins’s stony-faced Mathias Vogel), find out just what happened to her father, and then race against time to stop Vogel from opening the tomb and unleashing an ancient curse that would doom humanity forever.
To the film’s credit, our scepticism at the existence of such a primordial power is reflected in Lara herself, who up until confronted with the truth, cannot quite decide whether to dismiss the legend as pure myth. To its credit too, the revelation remains rooted in reality, which is in line with the filmmakers’ intention to create an authentic heroine not unlike what Christopher Nolan had done for Batman. In fact, we dare say this version of Lara Croft owes a fair amount of dues to Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’, particularly with its father-daughter arc that underlines Lara’s anguish following the sudden disappearance of her father as well as her subsequent reconciliation. Truth be told, giving a touch of pathos to Lara isn’t exactly a bad thing: after all, Vikander certainly has the acting chops to make it work, and she does make Lara a lot more relatable, empathetic and worth rooting for.
In the same vein, Lara is a lot less superhuman than she used to be. Save for one at the end, you won’t see her making her signature incredible leaps. Indeed, one of the very first sequences that we see her spring into action – which features the iconic escape from the plane hulk from the 2013 edition of the game – finds her wounded, bleeding and in pain by the end of it. That same sensibility runs throughout the action in the film, which insists on a level of realism that the ‘Tomb Raider’ franchise is hitherto not known for – and among the highlights are a thrilling foot chase around the Aberdeen harbour atop its fishing boats and floating establishments, another exhilarating one through the dense tropical jungle that culminates in a literal cliff-hanger involving the aforementioned aircraft, and last but not least the perilous trek into Himiko’s tomb full of hidden traps and life-and-death puzzles.
At the helm is Norwegian director Roar Uthaug, who’s honed his craft in action thrillers on his home turf like ‘The Wave’ and ‘Escape’ and applies that sense of pace to sustain an energetic momentum from start to finish. Though the focus is no doubt on the Indiana Jones-style stunt pieces, one certainly hopes that Uthaug could have spent more time on developing its characters – not only are supporting ones like Lu Ren and Vogel hardly given much attention or thought, the fundamental turning point of Lara’s transformation from plucky daughter to determined heroine comes off too abrupt – one moment she is pleading with her father to forget about his research, the next she is running through the forest back to Vogel’s camp without breaking a sweat.
As valiant as the attempt may be to give Lara Croft a new breath of life, we suspect that ‘Tomb Raider’ is simply not distinguishing enough in a time when popular culture is saturated with real-life heroes and comic book superheroes. This Lara is certainly a lot more grounded than Jolie’s two earlier incarnations were, but besides taking a narrative leaf from Nolan’s ‘Batman Begins’, this origin story should definitely have learnt the depth of character work required to establish a compelling lead character. If you’re just here for the action, you probably won’t be disappointed, but it’ll take a lot more for you to be enthused for a sequel, which the epilogue of the shadowy organisation Trinity and a pair of HK USP Match handguns all but suggests.
(There is life yet in this Tomb Raider, but not quite enough in Lara Croft to transform this former geekboy's wet dream into an icon of feminist independence)
Review by Gabriel Chong