Movie Review: Tomb Raider

The video game curse continues.


Warner Bros.

Fresh out of the action factory though it may be, the new Tomb Raider is already ripe to be remade—as a better movie. A movie that would more stylishly recycle the Indiana Jones readymades at the heart of its video-game DNA, and use them for something more dynamic than set dressing. A movie that would take some Indy tips about creating memorable secondary characters. An improved film would also hack down the thick underbrush of exposition, structure the narrative more gracefully, and—this is important!—assign somebody to turn on the lights during midnight mud-fight scenes.

The director, Norwegian genre specialist Roar Uthaug, is a pro and he does some things well (the action editing is pretty snappy throughout). But he also makes some puzzling choices. The movie begins with a bit of voiceover mumbo-jumbo about an evil Japanese queen named Himiko, who was long ago entombed on the "lost island of Yamatai" and is just "waiting to be unleashed." Fine—great, in fact: who doesn't love this sort of stuff?

Then we meet the soon-to-be tomb raider of the title, Lara Croft. In two earlier films, in 2001 and 2003, Lara was played by an unblushingly sultry Angelina Jolie, whose body was strategically padded out for the part in order to meet a 15-year-old boy's standard of pulchritude. Now, in a post-pulchritudinous age, she's played by the more petite Alicia Vikander, an actor of deep talent, none of which is called upon in this movie.

Instead of getting right down to business, director Uthaug and his various writers give us a bicycle race (Lara works as a London bike messenger!) that is exceedingly well cut-together, but is, nonetheless, a bicycle race, and a long one. There's a cash prize, and Lara's determined to win it, and just as we're figuring she must be broke, we learn that she's actually the motherless daughter of a bazillionaire business titan—an Indy-like amateur explorer and occultist named Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West). Dad disappeared seven years ago on one of his mysterious trips ("searching the world for proof of another realm," as he put it), and the family 's retainers (Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi) are now pressuring Lara to sign some official presumed-dead papers that will allow her to take charge of her fiscal inheritance and also hold on to Croft Manor, a country estate approximately the size of Hogwarts.

Lara is reluctant to acknowledge the possibility that her father is dead, and hope is rekindled when she finds some possible clues to his whereabouts. Soon she's off to Hong Kong, where we're given a chase across the docks and sampans that leads her to a boat owned by a young drunk named Lu Wen (Daniel Wu, of Geostorm). He agrees to take Lara to the lost island of Yamatai, even after realizing it's located in the Devil's Sea—or, as we know it, the Sea of Make-It-Stop CGI.

After a refreshing shipwreck, Lara falls into the hands of murderous Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), an old associate of Lara's dad who is already on the island conducting an excavation in search of Himiko's legendary tomb. But for whom is he doing this? Or for what? Dad also turns up—although we've already been seeing quite a bit of him in chokingly lachrymose color-drained flashbacks to Lara's childhood. He's kind of a sappy guy, and before very long at all you start wishing he'd go back to being lost.

The movie is by now in full sprawl, with Indy-isms piling up like ancient Sankara stones: the jungle cave, the skeletons, the spiders, the rickety bridge over the gaping chasm—even, at one point, some magicky stones with an actual Sankara-like glow. These familiar visual elements, so cool in their original Indy context, just feel dragged-in here, where the context is so garbled (what exactly are the "ordeals of Himiko"?) and the story's telling is so lacking in panache or momentum or fantasy exuberance of any sort.

The movie Is expensively dull, and Alicia Vikander does not belong in it. She doesn't pop as an action hero, for one thing, and she's too richly gifted a performer for a picture that only requires her to run and jump and get a little scuffed up at times. At the end, when the movie grabs you by the ears and screams "Sequel!" in your face, you hope for her sake that no such cheerless prospect will ever transpire.

NEXT: Collapsed FIU Bridge Was Funded by Federal Grant Program Criticized for Shoddy, Politicized Review Process

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  1. You know, even as poor as my 15-year-old self’s taste in such matters unquestionably was, I still think he’d have taken Vikander over Jolie.

    Not that Jolie isn’t owed her tithe of ogles. But to the discerning lecher…

    1. Jolie never did much for me. Olivia Wilde in the horribly under appreciated Tron:Legacy, however – yowza.

      1. I would select the “Dr. Remy ’13’ Hadley from House” edition as my preferred option, but the point stands.

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    2. I totally agree.

      She was adorable in The Man from UNCLE.
      But then I’m the type who’d take a petite cutie over a glamorous bombshell any day.

      1. Vikander is proof that an actress can be both, IMO.

    3. Jolie was at prime hotness when she did Tomb Raider. Very hard to beat.

    4. Jolie was chosen because she looks, without a whole lot of help, like the character in the game.

      1. Yes! Mrs. Vikander may be a great actress but the casting here is “Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher” bad. (BTW Tom acts the part very well)

        1. Theyve redone the game series and she does look fairly close to the new, younger Lara Croft figure in games.

      2. When I wrote “take her”, I didn’t mean “as the Lara Croft actress”.

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  2. Anyway, it’s been a theory of mine for some time that video game movies are like superhero movies: they need a generation of people who actually grew up with them as serious storytelling platforms, to finish growing up and take the reins of directing and production.

    When superhero movies started being produced in the 70s and 80s, “serious” comic books like The Killing Joke and TDKR were still new and unabsorbed by the zeitgeist. It took those sorts of books gaining recognition for filmmakers like Singer and Nolan to get the greenlight for their not-actually-awful storytelling attempts to gain traction.

    Most of these directors now either grew up with “kids'” games- Super Mario, Doom, what have you- or grew up before video games were common at all. It’ll take people who grew up with Serious Mode, mature games- Bioshock, Telltale’s stuff, that sort of thing; to a lesser extent, Skyrim and BF/CoD and suchlike- to actually look at those games, realize that they have stories and world-building equal to the best equivalent films, and put in the subtle screenwriting needed to make them work as films. As it is now, studio and production team alike still can’t help but think of them as summer CGI launchpads. They ignore the games with brilliant stories and zoom in on things like WoW, Assassin’s Creed, and this: shiny best-sellers with stories that are easily left by the wayside in favor of cheesy action and store-bought melodrama.

    1. Interesting theory that makes a lot of sense to me.

      The Batman TV show with Adam West is a good illustration. By the late 60s, the Batman in the comics had already gone dark and brooding, at least partly as a reaction to the often light-hearted, outlandish, and sometimes silly storylines of the 1950s. But the TV show’s campy treatment owed a lot more to that older, childish treatment. Only in the 1990s, with the Animated Series did they actually get the right tone for TV.

      1. So we should only have until about 2040 to wait for the nuanced, thought-provoking Super Mario epic we all deserve.

  3. Oh, and:

    Lu: “There they are! Opening fire!”

    Lara: “No! Stop! You got the last 17 henchmen, let me get at least more than one with my bow this time.”

  4. Walton Goggins made for an unmemorable character? Thank you Kurt, this review saved me a couple of hours.

  5. a young drunk named Lu Wen (Daniel Wu, of Geostorm).

    “Daniel Wu, of Geostorm”, Loder?

    That’s like saying “Kurt Loder, of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane“.

    Damned by faint praise.

  6. So they took an action franchise based upon a sexy female and downplayed the sexy. Next up, their going to relaunch the Terminator franchise with Leonardo DiCaprio as the Terminator. Yeah, it’s a shock that Hollywood isn’t doing better. A total surprise.

    1. You have no understanding of Hollywood’s gender equality. Leonardo DiCaprio has been signed to star in the next installment of the Tomb Raider franchise.

      1. You have no understanding of Hollywood’s gender equity. They don’t put men in women’s roles, just women in men’s roles.

    2. I agree, a disappointing reboot. I was going to boycott this movie based on the casting choice, despite loving Vikander’s acting in Ex Machina but my wife wants to see it.

      Much better in the lead role would have been Evangeline Lily (of Lost and Ant-Man) or my first choice: Hannah John-Kamen (of KillJoys) – she already has the sexy British accent, to boot.

    3. So they took an action franchise based upon a sexy female and downplayed the sexy.

      The last few video game entries they’ve reduced the, um, polygon count, so to speak, of Lara’s tits compared to the older games. When Jolie did the first movie in 2001 it was only a few years after the original video game came out, and they still had her at Barbie doll proportions. It was a simpler time.

      1. Yeah, the devs are exploring how Lara became Lara. Theyve focused on her in college, beford she firmly grasped what she was doing. The games are markedly better but she takes a hellacious beating.

  7. So it’s a movie based on the 2013 video game–which was itself more of a movie than a video game. And from this review, it sounds like the game was also a much better movie than the movie.

  8. The movie Is expensively dull, and Alicia Vikander does not belong in it. She doesn’t pop as an action hero…

    But all the radio ads I’ve heard on my way to/ from work say “Alicia Vikander is the female action star 2018 deserves,” whatever the fuck that means. I guess it means shitty.

    1. You can make the argument that we really do deserve to be punished.

  9. No Wrinkle in Time review?

  10. Angelina Jolie, whose body was strategically padded out for the part in order to meet a 15-year-old boy’s standard of pulchritude.

    My favorite review of that was “Jolie’s breasts should have been given separate billing.”

  11. I don’t know that it is possible to make a good movie out of a video game. Movies and video games a simply different mediums and the process used to inspire emotions in the viewer are different for each. Video games allow you to experience the narrative differently, by actively participating in it and making decisions about how the narrative is resolved (with limits, obviously). This simply isn’t possible in a movie, which can only show you the narrative instead of allowing you to direct it. In a video game, the way that you experience the narrative is more important than having the narrative be especially coherent or engaging, whereas a movie must engage you with the narrative. The characteristics that make a video game entertaining, enjoyable and meaningful don’t translate well into a movie format.

  12. Did Kurt Loder commit some horrible crime, and is his punishment to watch these bad movies?

    1. I heard a strange story once. I’d prefer it to not be true but it could explain why he does move reviews for Reason.

      1. Alright, the fire’s burning down and I’ve got my s’mores: tell us!

  13. You must have watched a different movie than me, I enjoyed it it’s far less silly and more enjoyable than the plethora of super hero movies we are subjected to. As it’s movie box office doesn’t rely on the US and it wasn’t that expensive I would call this a hit.

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  15. The review was good enough that I don’t want the movie to spoil my buzz. I’ll hold off and–if I hear of it being shown on teevee–I’ll know I made the right decision. Thanks Kurt

  16. Myself, three close to identical mixed martial arts fights are a challenge. Three men beating the stuffings from Lara was almost more than I’d care to stomach, but arguably in numbers 2 and 3 she knows it is do-or-die.

    At the end, Lara buys two large magazine hand guns – in LONDON. She is a laughing convert from a kids’ archery set to two-gun mamma. Interesting, but since Kipling wrote kid stories, who knew UK allows instant purchase of hand guns?

    While the bike chase is not quite as good as Black Panther’s Seoul car chase, I liked it. Lara’s smile might have quietly stolen my heart.

    As the Japanese emperors, if not queens, are descended from the Sun Goddess, the plot device seems gratuitously offensive, but hey, this is a spin off from a video game.

  17. Actually, Tomb Raider was not so bad as the majority says. The plot is kinda banal but the picture is nice. I was enjoying the movie so I totally forgot about the online math test I should take. Thanks God, I know some professional test takers for hire online

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