Friday 16 March 2018

Review: Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider (3D)
Cert: 12A / 118 mins / Dir. Roar Uthaug / Trailer

Full disclosure: I haven't seen the previous movies or played any of the games, so I was watching the new Tomb Raider purely as an action/adventure flick. Adjust your response to my responses accordingly.

So, it's mid-March and this is the first 3D movie I've seen in 2018, not that I've been avoiding them, which perhaps illustrates how the stereoscopic format has fallen in the eyes of schedulers and distributors. The last two MCU movies have opened in 2D before being joined in the listings by 3D screenings the following week. It's always been an 'event movie' gimmick, but it seems to be one which is fading in demand, rightly or wrongly. Speaking of event-movies…

Tomb Raider is the latest adaptation to make the perilous journey to our screens from gaming consoles*1, never an easy transition at the best of times. As a starring vehicle for Alicia Vikander, it's helmed by Norweigan director Roar Uthaug, and written by Evan Daugherty, Alastair Siddons and Geneva Robertson-Dworet. It is, as one would expect, the first film in a potential cinematic franchise.

We open with Ms. Croft (Vikander) scraping an existence in London as an experienced archer, average boxer and exasperated cycle courier. She's flat broke, you see, that's why she's living out of a loft-arpartment in Shoreditch. In order to make ends meet, Lara has to get involved in her mysteriously-vanished father, Lord Croft's (Dominic West), business interests, by talking in-person to Derek Jacobi and Kristen Scott-Thomas while they phone in their performances from the same room.

Anyway, upon receiving an ancient, mystical Chinese puzzle box from her dad's solicitor, Lara cleverly unlocks its contents by just twisting at it for fifteen seconds, finding a key to a secret workshop on the Croft estate, where a camcorder which has lain untouched for six years still has charge left in its battery. Then it's off to Hong Kong for some Indiana Jones shit with barely-interested sidekick Lu Ren (Daniel Wu). Walton Goggins appears as Matthias Vogel, the film's obviously-creepy baddie, and nuances his performance by continuing to act that way, relentlessly.

Oh, also the world is at stake. Something about bio-weapons. The script doesn't spend too much time on that, since the characters who really want it wouldn't conceivably know about it until the film's third act, yet there they are.

So. The exterior action setpieces are choreographed, shot and directed well (which is at least partially the point here, admittedly), but as far as praise or 'finding the good' goes, that's really about it. Tomb Raider is spectacularly ordinary at best, and it's quite often not even that.

The problem, as usual, is that the collection of well-worn setpieces will work perfectly well in a game where there's interaction to the proceedings (let's not forget that Lara Croft was essentially a gender-flipped Indiana Jones to begin with). But once that's reverse-translated back onto the silver screen, all that's left is an almighty rip-off of the cinematic properties which inspired it. There's no intrigue or story driving Uthaug's movie, just the hope that Alicia Vikander sweating through a sports-vest will be enough to distract the audience from the aching void at the heart of the screenplay. Spoiler: It's not.

From the petulant, reluctant hero, to the slave-labour archaeology camp run by an evil anthropologist, to the white water rapids with a climactic waterfall, to the prising open of a cursed casket, Tomb Raider is little more than a tedious procession of adventure tropes you've seen done elsewhere, and better. The 3D is implemented well enough from a technical level, but it's pointless in a movie with this much skaky-cam and action scenes which take place in dark environments.

Then, the level of exposition here is horrendous. We get three bursts of backstory before Lara has even left London, and the third of those basically recaps the first. If the script was any more clunky it'd be written out in Lego. Although Lara is indeed presented as resourceful and tenacious, she doesn't have to try too hard to figure out the way to the Ark of the Covenant Himiko's sarcophagus, since Lord Croft has handily left a series of clue-dropping audio-diaries from previous adventures, like a cross between Rick O'Connell and Mr Kipling…

"…I found a speck on an old map that no-one else has". Three people were involved in writing this. That's actual dialogue delivered by Dominic 'The Wire' West. I was initially amazed the man could keep a straight face for his lines, but then I remembered that he recently did a pasta sauce advert for TV. That said, his mullet here is nothing short of awards-worthy, and I hope the notoriously short-memoried Academy panel keeps this in mind for next year's gongs.

For Vikander's sake, I hope the fee she negotiated is enough to compensate for the hit to her credibility as An Actual Actress. Easy money does not necessarily mean an easy life.

The movie plays out like a two-hour cutscene from a game you won't be bothered about finishing, and feels like it should be the fourth entry in a series, not the first. Just before it's re-cast for straight-to-DVD continuations and a kid-friendly animated spinoff.

Tomb Raider brings little interesting and nothing new to action-cinema, nor (I imagine) does it shed any new light upon the game series which spawned it. It's faintly ironic that the film has been rated 12A since it's natural target audience is ten years old and too wired on Haribo and Tango Ice-Blasts to analyse anything they see...*2

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
This film belongs firmly on the same shelf as Assassin's Creed and The Great Wall...

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
If you're a Tomb Raider completist, go for it.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
It isn't.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Jerus Jannick is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
I was going to give this an 'unsatisfying' 3/7, but reading back everything I've said about it, that hardly seems right...

*1 Content-generators: Please stop penning speculative articles asking "Will this be the first good video-game movie?" every time one of these things comes along. We can safely assume it won't be, until we're miraculously proven wrong, upon which you can fill your clickbait boots retrospectively. Thanks. [ BACK ]

*2 And even your kids will have seen all this before. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

1 comment:

  1. Game in 'fails to translate into decent film!' shocker. (Has there ever been a good film taken from a videogame? I'm trying to think of one, but nothing's springing to mind.)