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Tomb Raider (2018)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Ready Player Yawn"
2 stars

When “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” hit theaters in the summer of 2001, it was not the first film to appear based on a video game property—games such as “Super Mario Brothers,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Street Fighter,” “Double Dragon” and “Wing Commander” had already hit multiplexes through adaptations that were met with critical derision and, with the exception of “Mortal Kombat,” which did well enough to inspire a couple of sequels, commercial indifference. However, it was the first one that arrived with the potential of actually being a good movie—it was made with serious money (the budget was said to be around $100 million at a time when that was still considered a sizable chunk of change), it was based on a game whose central character, a glamorous adventurer—imagine a cross between Indiana Jones and an exceptionally badass Spice Girl—by the name of Lara Croft and it had arguably the perfect person to slip into the character’s trademark shorts and boots in Angelina Jolie, fresh off of her Supporting Actress Oscar win for “Girl Interrupted” and at the apex of her screen stardom. And yet, when it finally came out, the end result, although a box-office hit, was pretty much the dictionary definition of the word “meh”—an utterly anonymous action narrative that viewers forgot almost as soon as the end credits began and which not even Jolie’s undeniable charisma, intelligence and sex appeal could not quite overcome the been there, done that feeling that permeated the whole thing. This sense carried over to the sequel, “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” (2003), which was a marginally better film but still not an especially worthwhile one and this time around, audiences stayed away and a potential franchise just withered away.

However, you can’t keep a good digitally rendered woman down and for the last few years, there has been talk of trying to reboot the series in order to capitalize on the character’s still-potent name recognition among gamers and non-gamers alike. Once again, producers have gone to great lengths to the film seem like more than just another piece of game-inspired junk, including a hefty budget and the hiring of up-and-coming director Roar Uthaug on the basis of his previous effort, the internationally successful disaster film “The Wave.” Even the casting once again proved to be more ambitious than expected with the role of Lara going to Alicia Vikander, yet another enormously talented and charismatic actress fresh off of a Supporting Actress Oscar win. Unfortunately, despite all of their efforts, the end result, “Tomb Raider,” is pretty much on par with its predecessors. On the one hand, it is probably the best of the “Tomb Raider” films to date but on the other, it once again proves to be a distressingly forgettable amalgamation of cliches and elements lifted wholesale from other films that at no point ever quite makes a compelling argument for its own existence.

Unlike the previous movies, which began with Lara Croft already established as a globe-trotting heroine, “Tomb Raider” is more like “Lara Croft: The Early Years” in that it is a reboot taking us back to her early days and first adventure. When we first see her, she is a fierce, feisty and perpetually broken young woman working as a bike messenger and taking part in a dangerous race through the streets of London in the hopes of winning a few bucks. Before you fanboys out there blow a gasket, her poverty is self-inflicted because she is still the daughter of the fabulously wealthy Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) and stands to inherit his entire estate now that he has been missing and presumed dead for seven years after vanishing while on a mysterious expedition—her resistance comes from her unwillingness to sign the papers that will officially have him declared dead. After finally agreeing to give in to the inevitable and the wishes of her longtime guardian (Kristen Scott Thomas), Lara is about to sign when the family retainer (Derek Jacobi) hands her a puzzle containing a key and a riddle. Solving the riddle easily enough, Lara literally unlocks her father’s secret past by uncovering his hidden lair containing relics, papers and a videotaped message begging her to destroy all of his notes regarding the whereabouts of the tomb of Himiko, a ancient exiled Japanese demoness who was said to have unimaginable powers, which he was searching for when he disappeared.

Lara’s journey begins in Hong Kong, where she makes the acquaintance of adorably drunken boat captain Lu Ten (Daniel Wu), whose father was hired by Lara’s dad to take him to the remote island of Yamatai and who has also been missing ever since then. Inconveniently located in the middle of the Devil’s Sea, Yamatai proves difficult to get to and as the boat gets wrecked on the rocks during a storm, Lara manages to jump off and swim to the island. There, she discovers that the place is under the control of Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), a functionary from a shadowy corporation in cahoots with a equally mysterious organization called The Trinity, which seeks to find dark supernatural forces throughout the world and put them under their control. Having been stuck on the island for seven years trying to find the tomb, Vogel has already gone around the bend, enslaving anyone who happens upon the island and murdering those who slack off. Now with Richard’s notes, he just might be able to do it. Lara eventually escapes the clutches of Vogel and his goons and heads further into the jungle and while I don’t want to give too much away, let it be said that there is indeed a tomb and it is indeed raided, so at the very least, the film comes as advertised.

The basic premise of the “Tomb Raider” franchise, or at least its central character, sounds entertaining in theory but once again, most of its potential seems to have been drained away in the effort to bring it to the screen.The screenplay by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alistair Siddons is yet another would-be blockbuster that is so consumed with trying to set things up for a series of sequels (including much talk, none of it interesting, about that darn Trinity group) that it neglects to actually tell a story worth caring that much about. The early scenes are easily the best. Unlike the previous films, which were more supernaturally oriented, this one plays out in a more down-to-earth manner, one mirroring the recent entries in the video game series that favors action over sheer over-the-top spectacle and which also demonstrates a welcome sense of humor at times. This lasts just about to the point where Lara lands on Yamatai and the film just becomes a series of scenes in which she runs through jungles and dodges any number of ho-hum CGI hazards along the way. At this point, the whole thing becomes a slog in which genuine excitement turns out to be even harder to uncover than the tomb of Himiko—the action scenes are by the book, the villain is pretty much a non-entity and even Lara herself winds up getting lost amid all the surrounding nonsense.

As Lara, Vikander is a bit of a mixed bag. In those early scenes, when she is allowed to show glimmers of humor and personality, she is quite good and engaging. However, once the story lands on the island and shifts into its self-serious action mode that reduces her to do little more than running and jumping, the spark of the earlier scenes disappears as she struggles to find something about the character that she can latch onto. Another problem is that while she is an incredibly gifted actress, Vikander is, at least here, not exactly the most convincing action star around and it is not just because there are times when she seems far too slight to convincingly feel many of the feats of derring-do on display here. As bad as the Angelina Jolie films were, she at least threw herself into the character with the kind of reckless abandon that helped to sell the various fight scenes and stunt sequences. Here, for example, there is a scene in which Lara kills for the first time after a vicious hand-to-hand fight and is then briefly struck with horror over wha she has done—Vikander nails the second part of the scene beautifully but it doesn’t register the way that it should because she is unable to really sell the first part.

“Tomb Raider” is one of those movies that seems to have been engineered with nothing more on its mind than winning the box-office sweepstakes for a weekend or two before evaporating from the minds of most moviegoers. Like the other cinematic adventures of Lara Croft, it is not so much a bad movie as it is a disappointing one in the way that it fails to live up to its potential. And yet, that potential is still there and even as I left the screening of this film having not experienced a moment of genuine excitement in the previous two hours, I couldn’t help but think that with just a few tweaks to the formula and the continued participation of Vikander, who might be better suited for a more experienced and confident iteration of her character, we might one day actually uncover something more rare and precious than any of the treasures that Lara Croft has uncovered in her numerous adventures over the years—a halfway decent “Tomb Raider” film.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31216&reviewer=389
originally posted: 03/15/18 12:12:21
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User Comments

4/01/18 the truth @SSD: Oui! Vikander is cold as ice. The games were more invigorating than this. 2 stars
3/29/18 Himiko's undies This was actually better than the original - pleasantly surprised 4 stars
3/17/18 Safe Space Disabler I'd rather play it than watch it, n'est-ce pas? 2 stars
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  16-Mar-2018 (PG-13)
  DVD: 12-Jun-2018


  DVD: 12-Jun-2018

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