Posts Tagged ‘Tomb Raider’

I decided a couple of years ago to stop watching new movie trailers over the internet, as a general rule – this was partly because they so often spoil pretty much the entire movie, but also because I think it’s surely much better to see them on the big screen, where at least some of the gosh-wow factor survives. That says, it does seem to be the case that TV and internet advertising has to some extent supplanted the old-fashioned ‘coming attractions’ style trailer – there are quite a few pretty big movies coming up over the next few weeks – the Pacific Rim sequel, Ready Player One, Rampage – and for a long while it looked like I wasn’t going to see a trailer for any of them. They all turned up in a bunch, in front of another big movie which I never saw a trailer for at all.

The movie in question is the new version of Tomb Raider, directed by Roar Uthaug, which apparently really is his name. (We are in for a bit of a mini-festival of people with unusual nomenclature, for the film was co-written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and co-stars someone called Walton Goggins.) Yes, they’ve done another movie based on Tomb Raider, and spent about $100 million on it. I must confess to being even more befuddled than usual by this, for to my mind the only things that scream ‘late 1990s’ more than the whole Lara Croft/Tomb Raider thing are Spice Girls records and Jim Carrey trying to be a serious actor. But apparently there is still an audience for these things (Tomb Raider movies, I mean).

This time around Lara Croft is played by Alicia Vikander, thus continuing the time-honoured tradition of talented and not-uncomely young actresses being rewarded for their skill and success in serious movies by landing a leading role in a comic-book or computer game franchise (cf. Halle Berry in Catwoman, Charlize Theron in Aeon Flux, Jennifer Lawrence in X-Men, Scarlett Johansson and Elisabeth Olsen in the Marvel movies (soon to be joined by Brie Larson), and so on). On this occasion Lara is less of a one-woman argument for the violent overthrow of the aristocracy, for as the film starts she is an impoverished victim of London’s gig economy, despite there being a massive inheritance lined up for her.

Why should this be? Well, daddy Richard Croft (Dominic West) disappeared years ago, but Lara refuses to believe he is dead and won’t sign the paperwork saying as such. (Kristen Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi turn up for this scene, just to give the film a bit of much-needed heft, and are presumably nicely rewarded for the use of 5% of their talent.) She refuses to take over the family corporation, declaring ‘I’m not that kind of Croft.’ One wonders what kind of Croft she thinks she is – a tennis player? A sitcom writer-producer? I can’t think of many others.

Then Lara finds a clue that puts her on her father’s trail: apparently he was last spotted headed for the ‘Devil’s Sea’ and a lost island, rumoured to be the location of a semi-mythical Japanese queen with allegedly supernatural death-dealing powers. Yup, there’s a tomb just crying out to be raided, if she can only get to it…

There’s a moment about halfway through the new Tomb Raider where Lara Croft, who up to this point has basically been a fairly normal (albeit unusually tanned and ripped) cycle courier on a slightly odd backpacking trip, finds herself obliged to kill a man with her bare hands (in self-defence, naturally). It’s actually quite rare for a movie to show an iconic character killing for the first time (the only other instance I can think of off the top of my head is at the very start of the 2006 Casino Royale), and to its great credit Tomb Raider doesn’t simply skate past this. Alicia Vikander’s performance in particular keeps it grounded and very real: we do get a sense that this young woman has crossed a boundary she will never be able to return from.

Then again, that’s kind of emblematic of the whole film, which seems to have ‘keep it real’ as its mission statement, and about which the single best thing is Vikander’s performance. She is playing a real human being, barely recognisable as the cartoony robotic mannequin from the two Angelina Jolie movies. Of course, time has moved on and this is reflected in the film – Lara Croft slings a very Hunger Games-ish bow rather than the usual big guns (though there is the inevitable reference to her iconic dual-wielding tendencies at one point), and Vikander is somewhat more modestly dressed – at least to the point where you don’t get a strong sense of what it feels like to be Michael Fassbender, anyway.

I have to say I was rather dubious about the rumoured attempts to reimagine Lara Croft ahead of the new movie and turn her into a more rounded individual, even if this did mean making her a less rounded individual in other ways (ka boom tish). Wouldn’t this just be missing the point of the character, roughly akin to turning James Bond into a teetotal single parent? Well, of course, it’s not quite like that, for it’s not as though we’re talking about an especially deep or complex character who’s intended to represent anything in particular, beyond the player of a particular computer game. As a computer game sprite she’s only marginally a character in the traditional sense anyway. The new movie hardly breaks ground by making her a feisty, independent, courageous young woman, but I would suggest that coming up with a coherent personality at all is some kind of achievement.

It’s certainly the most notable thing about the film, which is otherwise a very undistinguished action-adventure runaround with a slightly coy approach to just what genre it belongs to. Parts of the plot are just so silly and implausible you simply sigh and roll your eyes, while other sequences which are intended to thrill are just so hackneyed they’re dull – yes, there are more booby-traps with spikes, and oh, look, here’s another collapsing corridor to be run down, and – yes, right on cue – here comes another death-defying leap. The bad guys, led by Goggins, are very dull and anonymous, and most of Lara’s allies feel straight out of central casting. (On the other hand, turning up to deploy his monumental scene-stealing skills is Nick Frost, whom it is always good to see.) The conclusion of the movie is unnecessarily cluttered by some blatant angling to set up a sequel.

Tomb Raider is, if nothing else, a big improvement over the two Angelina Jolie movies: although the benchmark they set was so subterraneanly low that this hardly means anything at all. It passes the time and is never actively bad, but at the same time it brings nothing really new to the screen and its principal point of interest is Alicia Vikander’s excellent performance. This film will justify its existence if it helps her with her career trajectory and means she ends up playing more rewarding parts in better movies. On its own terms, however, it basically poses the question of why anyone other than hardcore gamers should still care about Lara Croft, and despite the best efforts of Vikander and everyone else, it fails to come up with a convincing answer.

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