Alicia Vikander stars in a new adaptation of the venerable video game series; Roar Uthaug directs.
Lara Croft, a pioneer of videogame heroic protagonists, a sex symbol, and part of the United Kingdom export of girl power, has endured since the PlayStation convinced us that pixels can be appealing.
Sex, of course, was a lot easier to peddle in the nineties, and the apt choice to play the buxom heroine on-screen was Angelina Jolie, enlivening the character with sass and charisma. Despite how cheesy the first two original films feel today, they worked wonders as products of their time.
When the game was rebooted in 2013, it took young Lara in a gritty direction in the form of an origin story. She shipwrecks off the coast of the treacherous island of Yamatai whilst still grieving over her parent’s death. She is young and foolish, and the game perfectly relays her growth and struggle to the player as she survives the extremely harsh environment, only to be thrust into danger time and again. She learns and adapts, growing stronger and more resilient as the game progresses.
The gradual reveal of the curse of Queen Himiko, enveloping the island in a ceaseless storm to which there seems no escape, is also plotted well, and the fear of the unknown is, at times, as gripping as the storytelling is compelling and surprisingly grounded. Camilla Luddington voices the younger Lara perfectly as she goes through many painful and wild ordeals, echoed in the suffering of her voice and the physical and mental trauma which gives way to the birth of a legend.
Reversing all the goodwill of the mature and provoking sojourn of the newer game, comes Tomb Raider (2018), which places Alicia Vikander in the olive tank top and misses the goddamn point entirely. As affable as Vikander is, she sucks the spirit of determination and adventure out of the proceedings, replacing that instead with a cardboard cut-out Croft that is desperately lacking personality and sense. Perhaps Norwegian director Roar Uthaug should have done his research and actually played the game, as the mysterious location of the island is perhaps the only thing he does gets right, as well as, of course, the daddy issues.
We are introduced to Lara as a ‘fiercely independent’ food courier, BMXing around trendy London town. Some fleeting scenes suggest her physical prowess, but nothing indicating the wit, skill and intelligence required to be a Croft that goes hunting for tombs, as even young Lara in the video game has been educated with such knowledge. In the new film it is just assumed that she knows everything about her father’s hidden hobby, even though she only just discovers it.
This is one of many vital plot holes that degrade and contradict the adaptation. Ignoring her father's will entirely, Lara lives outside her life of privilege. She refuses to admit, even after seven years, that her Father is dead; a weighty subject handled poorly and unconvincingly. Lara’s carer Ana (Kristin Scott Thomas) is eager for Lara to inherit her father’s massive wealth and family manor, but to which end is not initially clear, unless of course you have played the game. Missing in action is Richard Croft, competently played by Dominic West despite his appearance being bizarrely familiar to Iain Glen, the main villain with a mullet Manfred Powell in the 2001 original film, and this is somewhat jarring.
Tomb Raider eventually stumbles to the tomb, sandwiched between the clunky exposition of the first twenty seconds and the titular raiding, however, are pointless scenes that have nothing to do with the mythos. Come for globetrotting adventure, get a food courier bicycle race, Nick Frost in a mirthless bit-part where Lara foolishly yet purposely pawns an invaluable family heirloom, and a mugging in broad daylight in the extremely stereotyped Junk harbor of Hong Kong.
It is in Hong Kong, however, where the film finally kicks off the journey as she finds the one-dimensional Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), who does his best with the paper-thin character. After solving her father’s insipid hidden messages to burn all evidence of Yamatai, Lara naturally does the opposite and blindly finds herself neck-deep in danger on the aforementioned isle.
She meets the antagonist way too soon and survives mostly on luck, being unprepared for such a journey. The film then proceeds to copy fragments of what is supposed to be on the island, including the shadowy cabal organisation Trinity, with limitless funds, led by a bored looking Walton Goggins and his band of generic mercenaries as they seek to find Himiko’s tomb, because whoever is on the other end of the radio told them to.
Tomb Raider is barely a half-cooked origin story and mostly coasts by on lazy scriptwriting with too many plot holes to count. Clunky dialogue collides with passable action, and the time it takes for Lara to become a powerful athlete, archer and killer is almost instant, explained away in equally rushed flashbacks. Worse still there are some twists in the tale needlessly presented that once again do nothing good for the story at hand, and that anyone with half a brain can see coming a mile off.
Even the terrified teenager of the newer game is smarter than this dour, thoroughly uninteresting version Vikander presents. This Lara makes decisions akin to the tropes presented in horror films. Tomb Raider then also doubles down on tired clichés, and although there are bursts of action and a grip on CGI already evident in Uthaug’s previous work The Wave, the uncanny nature of the island and its bizarre history, particularly the creepy World War II element, is discarded entirely for a bland environment in mostly broad daylight that only gets slightly more interesting once the tomb raiding happens.
Sadly, the moment to present a phenomenal set piece of an actual tomb to raid, turns instead into three rooms and a corridor; it seems the creators of this tomb were as pushed for time as the scriptwriters. Worse still, when the casualties happen, it is bloodless and bland, removing all grit from this needless reboot.
As a passionate fan of the video game reboot, Tomb Raider turned out to be more of a disappointment than my already low expectations could account for. There is no point investing time in this dull adventure, and Vikander as Lara does not even try to hint at the legacy that is to come. This is another by-the-numbers cynical and lifeless boardroom decision of a film too eager to get to the end, but too lazy to try and do justice to an icon.
Tomb Raider is in cinemas Australia-wide 15th March, it opens in the US on the 16th.