Director: Roar Uthaug
Screenplay: Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas
Runtime: 118 Minutes
The 2013 reboot/prequel to the Tomb Raider video game franchise sought to humanise the classic figure of Lara Croft for a new generation. Reinterpreting and rewriting her into a younger and more vulnerable woman who is faced with fighting for survival in the brutal jungle landscape of a mythical island, where she is physically and emotionally tested and shaped into the iconic Tomb Raider.
While the game might not have entirely worked for some, its ambition to bring further dimensionality and deconstruction to a longstanding and heavily sexualised figure of popular culture was a more than admirable. What this similarly titled reboot film does is borrow the aesthetic details and concepts of the game (without the narrative or background context), but without applying them in an interesting way to the slim and weightless origin story that it marks itself as for a new blockbuster franchise.
Failing to deliver on a video game adaptation shouldn’t be news to anyone anymore, as the years go on its increasingly apparent that we may never get the definitive video game adaptation as the mediums are just too separate as experiences to make one as satisfying as the other. But this shouldn’t have been as hard a task.
From an action perspective, there is a lot of heft to be had of this reimagined Lara (Alicia Vikander) struggling to survive and fight off enemies and wildlife in a hostile environment. Never mind the set-pieces, two of which are lifted almost entirely from the quick time event (QTE) showcases of the game itself.
Norwegian director Roar Uthaug tries his best with the few set pieces that they are. Although heavily incorporative of digital effects and pre-visualised motions, the two big moments recreated from the games – one involving Lara’s escape from a sinking ship, and the other her struggle near a waterfall – are admittedly well put together and look pretty good under George Richmond’s cinematography. There’s a seemingly knowing construction to having Lara find just the right tools to pass her next challenge before they begin, mirroring some of the videogame’s logic.
They arrive as bursts of excitement to a largely uninvolving and run-of-the-mill narrative involving Lara’s quest to find her missing and presumed dead father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West). For a film that’s nearly two hours long, it's shocking how little the film actually covers in this time. There’s no life to the dialogue scenes, with none of the supporting cast registering with depth even as heavyweights like Walton Goggins as the film’s villain, and Daniel Wu as a handsome young ship captain, try to make the most of their screen time.
But all of this is swirling around the heart of a bigger problem; that being the character of Lara Croft herself and the version they are trying to portray. Alicia Vikander is certainly well-suited to the role from a physical perspective and a dexterous action heroine, and that the film works at all is mostly down to her commitment to the part. But Lara doesn’t make sense as a character, and in the effort of stripping away all of the iconography and much of the background to the myth, they found nothing to really fill the void with. Instead, she’s driven less by her own survival instincts than she is by her overriding daddy issues.
There are still glimmers in this of a much better attempt to re-contextualise the character onscreen. Her introductory scene is of her being beaten in the ring by another woman and nearly choked out, her arc makes initial sense given her unwillingness to accept her father’s death being the main reason for her not accepting her inheritance because then that would make it real. Even her first actual ‘tomb raid’ comes in a surprising form.
But Lara’s characterisation and Vikander’s method of performance is forced to change from scene to scene. From an opening sequence in London where she’s a street-smart working girl, to the wounding reveal of her hidden privilege and her sudden ability to solve complex puzzle boxes, the markers are there to make structural sense but offer nothing thematic as soon as they reach the island and it becomes a race to save the world from a standard threat by an even duller secret society to be explored in later movies (of which this likely will not even get).
The final scene of the film is where the entire production reveals just how misjudged and confused about its own identity it is. Having an entire film being about showing the audience a 21st century feminist deconstruction of a beloved icon, and then in the final moments pandering to the fanbase as Alicia appears to have immediately transformed into the caricatured original version of Lara Croft – complete with two guns, braided ponytail and black vest top – and it begs the question of what the point of this entire venture was even meant to be.
Tomb Raider is a sad and unexciting trek uphill toward a destination that isn’t worth getting to. Nothing it offers to the franchise or its actors can be worth the emptiness of its storytelling, its characterisation, or its set-pieces that were far more involving when they allowed the player to be a part of the action.