It’s puzzling to me that studios have recently invested so much into reboots of existing properties that weren’t all that great to begin with. (See: ‘Death Wish’). The execs can’t be so far removed that they’re blindly ignorant to the fact that the there’s absolutely no demand for them, right? Even if they produce a decent reboot, unless word-of-mouth spreads like a wildfire, the reboot is destined for failure. Such is the case with the good-enough new iteration of ‘Tomb Raider’.
Truth be told, I’ve never been much of gamer, so the Angelina Jolie ‘Tomb Raider’ movies held no nostalgia value for me. I saw them as mindless blockbuster fluff. While Alicia Vikander’s ‘Tomb Raider’ still qualifies as mindless fluff, it at least has a feasible, smaller story, some fun action set-pieces, developed characters, and a personality. The improved aspects of the new movie make me want something that Jolie’s movies never make me want: sequels.
Academy Award-winning actress Alicia Vikander plays Lara Croft, the tomb raider of the title. She studies Mixed Martial Arts and works as a London bike courier. Despite never going to college, she’s instinctively brilliant at solving puzzles and cracking codes because she has the genes from her genius father. Since her dad’s disappearance seven years ago, Lara has struggled to find a direction for her life – but when she uncovers a clue that might bring light to her father’s disappearance, she finally takes charge.
The puzzle that Lara finds leads her to (what feels like) the rocky shores of the island from Peter Jackson’s ‘King Kong’. There she meets the movie’s villain (Walton Goggins), an over-worked mid-level manager for an evil corporation that aims to capitalize on global unrest. Although he leads a manpower force whose efficiency, brawn and civil engineering prowess rival that of Nickleback’s roadies, he’s gone a little bananas under the terms of his long-term position. If Lara is going to uncover her father’s mystery and thwart Evil Corp’s plans, she’ll have to outsmart everyone and everything on this deadly Pacific island – including Goggins’ wildcard villain.
My biggest complaints with ‘Tomb Raider’ are its occasional tone-deafness and constant lack of style. Although the movie has a tendency to successfully induce audience smiles and emotional reactions, more often than not, it slips into a too-serious tone, leaving gaps between the fun and humor. I’m not looking for an all-out Indiana Jones-style adventure here, but some even flow and consistency would make it move along at a better pace.
The action set-pieces can bring tension and fun, but they way they’re shot lacks any artistry. I’m no director or cinematographer, but even I can envision better ways to place the audience into the action. As-is, the film’s visual style is generic, flat and pedestrian.
Now that you’ve heard my complaints, I’ll tell you what keeps those elements from weighing the entire movie down. Surprisingly, the character development is better than I expected. The relationship between Lara and her father is given depth thanks to various flashback sequences with a kid actor filling in as young Lara and Dominic West as her dad. They work well and give you an understanding for Lara’s motivation and a reason to root for her success. Vikander and West both do great jobs, but I enjoyed watching Goggins the most. His villain isn’t exactly what you’d expect. He’s not the hell-bent and determined bad guy that you’d predict him to be. Instead, he’s a corporate monkey that has been forced to perform a mundane and maddening task that has made him just as crazy and unpredictable as Aguirre – only instead of the wrath of God coming down on him, he’s about to experience the fury of Lara.
All in all, I enjoyed ‘Tomb Raider’ enough that if another one gets made, I’ll gladly watch it. Based on the little demand and buzz that it seems to be generating, I don’t think the film will be financially successful enough to warrant a sequel, but if it does, I hope the producers bring on better writing and directing talent.