If only I had a controller in my hand.
Video game-based films have had a reputation for being poorly made; from Super Mario Bros., to the Resident Evil series, to nearly all of Uwe Boll’s filmography. In 2016, audiences got a double dose of disappointment with the cinematic adaptations of Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed, which was especially brutal given the talent both in front and behind the camera. The one video game-based film that came close to breaking this reputation, if I had to pick, was 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, based on the Tomb Raider games by Crystal Dynamics. While not a good film by any means, it was self-aware enough of its preposterous nature, which is hard not to enjoy. Just seeing Angelina Jolie swing around on bungee cords while taking on henchmen and giant robots (those of which play her favorite music) is enough to satisfy any cinema-goer. Sixteen years later, audiences are being treated to a reboot directed by Roar Uthaug, director of the surprise hit The Wave, with Academy-Award winner Alicia Vikander in the title role.
Ever since her father disappeared, Lara Croft has been living a carefree lifestyle. Before she can sign her father’s official death statement to inherit his business, she discovers a clue that suggests that he might still be alive somewhere. Uncovering her father’s old office at home, she discovers that he has been on a mission to uncover the tomb of Himiko, a mythical queen who can control life and death. Following a string of clues leads Lara to Hong Kong in search of her father, only to get tangled up in an excavation led by her father’s rival, Mathias Vogel, who looks to profit from uncovering the tomb. Using skills she has learned from childhood, Lara must find her father, who has the key to opening the tomb, and escape before the power of life and death falls into the wrong hands.
I probably made this plot sound much more exciting than it actually is. For a film called Tomb Raider, there is not really much tomb raiding, rather slave labor, bickering, and face-offs against backpack thieves. There is no inherent fault for delaying the action to build audience anticipation, but what the film offers in-between is both predictable and unpleasant, mostly due to the arrogant characters Lara Croft comes across. Only a small bit by Nick Frost manages to rise above a rather weak supporting cast. It is not until the hour mark of the film when the action finally starts, but by then, I did not have enough investment in the film to care. A better title for this film should have been Time Waster.
I would talk about the action, but I could barely see any of it in this film, and that is due to the horrendous lighting, cinematography, and editing. There is a night-set fight scene between Lara and a henchman in a mud bank, but it was so poorly lit and edited, that I couldn’t tell who was who. Sure, the henchman was twice the size of Lara, but the camera is also so close to the action, that the placement of the actors is hard to figure out.
This problem carries over into the action I was able to see, including a bike race, a chase amongst a harbor of boats, and a fake-looking plane over an ever faker-looking waterfall. Say what you will about how fake the sets looked in the 2001 film, but they at least gave you the sense of watching an adventure film in the style of the 1999 version of The Mummy. The one wide solid shot of real visible action is a shot of Lara running through a forest, with CGI so synthetic, that I bet they took this straight from one of the games.
Speaking of which, let us take a look at Lara Croft, herself. While I do think that Vikander masters the character’s foreign accent better than Jolie did, I just didn’t buy her as the badass action heroine the games made her out to be. Vikander spends most of the action scenes cowering while escaping certain death, only showing intimidation when she finally sports Lara’s trademark bow and arrow late in the film. She is seriously trying here, especially in the emotional moments, but the film does not have enough wit and personality to allow her to be a badass. Sorry Alicia, but Jolie is the real tomb raider!
The only thing worse than a subpar hero is a horrible villain, and this exists in the form of Walton Goggins’ Mathias Vogel. This is one of the worst villains I ever had to endure for a runtime of 90 minutes or more. He spends most of the movie spouting sarcasm and chastisement, even when the moment does not require it. If this trait was in the same vein as Hans Landa in Inglorious Bastards or Hans Gruber in Die Hard, maybe this performance could have worked. As is, however, it is just a bratty middle school bully without any true grit. Then again, the film itself has no real grit at all and contains lines and scenes resembling other, better films. These include Indiana Jones, The Bourne Identity, Rambo, and even the scene of Vogel constantly shouting “Open it” sparked memory of Nicolas Cage’s bizarre performance in The Trust. It is almost word for word!
One may think reading this review that I am being too demanding of these filmmakers, but all I actually expect from a movie of this kind is to entertain me. While I cannot say that Tomb Raider is the worst video-game based film, it feels inexcusable for this film to be this boring. I’ve never played the Tomb Raider games, so I’m not sure just how accurate this film is, but if I had a controller, I would avoid the plot and explore the jungle instead.