I am a big fan of Tomb Raider, specifically the 2013 video game that rebooted the icon, from which the 2018 movie borrows some of its story and most of its iconography. The game starts with an intelligent but inexperienced Lara asleep aboard a ship bound for a mysterious island when a storm forces her on the journey to becoming a survivor, a warrior and a legend. Roar Uthaug’s new film seems more interested in remaking the 2002 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, for better and (mostly) for worse.
Starting with the movies strongest asset, Alicia Vikander is (of course) a great Lara Croft. She is able to capture both the profound strength and endearing vulnerability that has made Lara Croft endure through over two decades of gaming history. She is capable of far greater nuance than Angelina Jolie and looks far more plausible as an action star. When she finally acquires her bow and arrow, whilst wearing the iconic blue tank top, her tan skin and toned physique obvious, she is nothing short of iconic. An embodiment of strength. Unfortunately the script is unable to make full use of her performance. She isn’t funny, because the script isn’t funny. She isn’t intelligent, because the script isn’t. And unfortunately she is not nearly as exciting as she should be.
Interestingly, Lara starts the film at the peak of physical strength, perhaps because she is only destined to spend two days on the island (as opposed to the weeks or even months of the game) and so a physical transformation would be improbable. The movie starts with her boxing and soon has her in a high speed bike race through Shoreditch. This extreme sports and thrill-seeker aspect of Lara really reminded me of the action movies of the early 00s.
Intellectually she is lacking, it seems. She is good at puzzles because her dad left them lying around the house. But the film makers have taken away her knowledge of archaeology, history and languages. It is implied that she is disaffected because of the mysterious disappearance of her father and therefore is not living to her full potential. Those not familiar with the actual games may wonder what that potential actually is.
There’s a very strong, though far too brief, stretch in the middle of Tomb Raider. After escaping from the rather forgettable main villain, Lara endures a very difficult chain of events that includes a fall into rapids, a plane crash, a fall down a waterfall and finally a parachute into the jungle. It was rather surprising to find almost every action beat from the trailer sewn together in one long sequence, but it captured the thrill of seeing a plucky hero struggle to survive a series of perilous feats.
Lara is then forced to kill in self-defence, a key moment in her character development which is completely rushed over. She kills happily for the rest of the film. Shortly after, she raids an enemy base with a bow and arrow, stealthily moving through the camp. She moves with confidence and agility. Then the sequence erupts into gunfire marking the end of my stretch of genuine investment. These sequences had Lara reacting to threats she was unprepared for and escaping just by the skin of her teeth. They exclusively follow Lara and she is the only agent in her actions. This is, unfortunately, in contrast with the rest of the film.
The movie doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to putting Lara through the rigours, and her ability to stand up to such treatment always was one of her most inspiring qualities and is no less encouraging here. However Lara is often the onlooker to action performed by the men around her. Unlike her video game counterpart she is never permitted to truly take control of the situation and overcome her foes with just her wit and perseverance. Her dad is here to help, amongst others.
There’s something a little sinister about the need to give strong female characters daddy issues. At best it betrays a limited imagination for character backstory, at worst it portrays the characters greatest strengths as a poor substitute for having a good relationship with the main male character. The hero is therefore overcompensating, which is very dismissive of genuine female strength.
The 2013 game saw Lara struggle not only with the unforgiving jungle of the island but also with the cost of survival. She learned who she was through her actions. I’m just not sure what we are meant to glean from Tomb Raider 2018. Lara starts the movie wondering whatever happened to her dad, and ends knowing. The impact on her is hard to discern. Except now she likes guns.
Perhaps the issues of Tomb Raider can best be described as the lack of conviction and a lack of imagination. The film dares not follow the game’s violent and gritty story of survival at all costs, and lacks the imagination to create a new adventure for Lara. The film then is a grittier, less fun version of the 2002 camp-fest. We have a better Lara Croft in Alicia Vikander, but not a better Tomb Raider.
2 / 5