THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE
As a huge fan of the Tomb Raider video game franchise, I was incredibly nervous going into the latest big screen adaptation of the iconic heroine. Over the years, Hollywood has made multiple attempts to adapt popular video games and every single attempt has failed. However, with the advancements made in comic book film adaptations, studio executives have finally begun to take video games as forms of storytelling seriously. As the years have gone by, it always seems to be a case of “the next one will be it”, with “it” referring to the adaptation that finally succeeds as not only a piece of throwaway entertainment but as a genuinely good film. The most recent “its” have been Duncan Jones’ Warcraft and Justin Kurzel’s Assassin’s Creed, both of which were panned by critics. Therefore, despite the talent involved in the film, both in front and behind the camera, many went into the film expecting another absolute failure. Fortunately, that is not the case with Roar Uthaug’s film.
The film is loosely based on the 2013 reboot of the video game series and tells the origin story of Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander). After uncovering a mystery surrounding her father’s disappearance, Lara ventures on a dangerous journey, where she discovers a plot that threatens the entire world.
Alicia Vikander’s casting as Lara Croft initially drew mixed reactions from fans, with many expecting her to be a disappointment compared to the only other actress to play the character on the big screen: Angelina Jolie. It’s not hard to understand why as Jolie has the more original sexualised appeal typically associated with the character. Not to mention the fact that Jolie simply has more star power and thus would immediately receive a more positive response, regardless of whether or not the audience were aware of Lara Croft or not. However, upon her casting I was ecstatic. After hearing rumours that she was in talks to play the role, I had been anxiously waiting for the announcement of her casting and when it came I had a lot more faith in the film than I should have. Thankfully, my faith was not for nothing, as Vikander proves that she is perfect for the role. Not only does she have the look of the updated model of Croft but she also has the physicality. She is as believable in her action scenes as she is in the more dramatic, emotionally charged scenes. This truly is a piece of excellent casting and I really hope that she gets another chance to portray the iconic character. Another great casting was Dominic West as Lara’s father Richard Croft. Not only do the two look similar, making the relationship between father and daughter believable, but West is a talented actor and manages to hold his own despite the overwhelming talent of Vikander.
As the film is an adaptation of the 2013 reboot, however loose that adaptation may be, one thing that the film absolutely succeeds with is the overall tone which is the same gritty tone gamers experienced. This is a Lara Croft to be taken seriously. Unlike the campiness seen in Jolie’s Croft flicks, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider- The Cradle of Life, Roar Uthaug manages to faithfully craft a dark version of the tomb raider whilst still acknowledging the history of the character.
One of the things that surprised me the most with Tomb Raider was the fantastic score composed by Junkie XL. The score is without a doubt one of his best and adds an epic scale to a rather small-scale film. As the film approaches its climax, I found myself captivated not by the action that was taking place on the screen but by the emotional score that was playing alongside it. There is not a single track that feels out-of-place within the film, nor one that overstays its welcome.
A final positive is that for fans of the 2013 game, there are many homages that will be appreciated. Aside from the appearance of Lara, the standout moment that I, as a fan, loved was the sequence involving the plane seen in the trailers. These homages are something that the average audience member, with no knowledge of the video game series, will not understand, but for fans its something that will be another highlight of the viewing experience.
All that being said, Tomb Raider is not without its flaws. Firstly, the script is poor. Throughout the film, there are sequences which feel totally unnecessary, most notably one involving a bike chase at the start of the film which goes on far too long and serves no real purpose to the story. As a result of these sequences, there is a sense that many plotlines were either trimmed down or sacrificed entirely. As someone who loved exploring the island of Yamatai in the game, I was incredibly disappointed to find that the island scenes largely revolved around three small sets. There is no sense of epic grandeur with the island, just a bunch of rocks and trees. That is something that I noticed repeatedly throughout the film. If you are a fan of the 2013 game and were hoping for a faithful adaptation, or something even remotely resembling the game, story-wise, other than a few aesthetic homages, then you are sure to be disappointed. Ultimately, the entire MacGuffin that the evil organisation Trinity is after, and therefore must be stopped by Lara, is a massive departure from the game and actually makes for a really poor third act. Due to the script, the film just flies by and the characters evolve from their experiences rapidly, but the audience is left wondering why exactly the characters evolved the way they did.
The supporting cast is forgettable for the most part. Walton Goggins is fine in the role of villain Mathias Vogel, however, it is a role that any talented actor could have taken. There is nothing that makes him stand out as a villain that will be remembered for years to come, or even quite frankly, days to come. As for Daniel Wu, he is actually great to watch but it’s just a shame that he is wasted in Tomb Raider. Despite being an accomplished martial artist, Wu is relegated to playing a guy that helps Lara at certain points in the film. Having seen what he is capable of with Into the Badlands it’s just a real shame that he spends the majority of the film standing around. The film also boasts a few cameos from notable stars such as Derek Jacobi, Hannah John-Kamen and Nick Frost, which ultimately prove distracting.
Finally, one of the things that shocked me the most was the lack of action in the film. The Tomb Raider series is famed for its many incredible set pieces yet the film really lacks a single standout moment of action. This would be perfectly acceptable if the film was a character piece for Lara Croft, in the same way that Logan was a character piece for the iconic mutant Wolverine. Tomb Raider is not Logan. It doesn’t try to be and yet Logan managed to have more memorable moments in the final ten minutes than the entire 118-minute runtime of Tomb Raider.
So does the latest adaptation of the iconic heroine break the curse that all video game big screen adaptations seemingly have? No, it doesn’t. However, it is definitely a step in the right direction. Roar Uthaug’s film may just be the best video game adaptation ever made, which really isn’t saying all that much.