Raiders of the Reboot
Will this break the video game curse? Is the sky blue?
The Tomb Raider video games are among the longest running series in the medium’s short history. And like anything else that’s been going on for 10 plus years, a reboot of its story was inevitable and so you had the 2013 video game which reimagined the character of Lara Croft from big-bossomed Indiana Jones with a penchant for murdering animals to a more realistic and grounded survivor with heavy physical and emotional scars that prefers hunting down her fellow man with a bow and arrow. And given that game’s success, it was inevitable someone would try to reboot the film series to fit this new version of Lara Croft from the Mountain Dew-chugging Angelina Jolie version. And we have the company who makes the games as a producer…which has never gone wrong before.
So Alicia Vikander portrays the new Lara Croft, who’s a college-age troublemaker in self-imposed poverty because she doesn’t claim her inheritance by accepting her father (Dominic West) has died after being missing for 7 years. After being threatened by her legal guardian (Kristin Scott Thomas) that her father’s estate will be lost if she doesn’t sign a power of attorney confirming the man’s death, Lara discovers her father left her an urgent message. That being he wasn’t only a businessman, but a globetrotting archaeologist who tried to stop an ultra powerful organization called Trinity from obtaining artifacts that could threaten the free world. Rather than obey his instructions to destroy his research, Lara heads out to Hong Kong and links up with a sea captain named Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) in order to find her father’s last known whereabouts: an abandoned island hiding the body of Japan’s first queen who possessed a deadly power. Unfortunately for Lara, her ship gets wrecked and she finds herself at the mercy of Trinity’s lackey played by Walton Goggins; forcing Lara to utilize her wits and extensive survival skills in order to outwit and stop Trinity.
Now Vikander deserves a ton of props because any chance this film and the franchise its producers are hoping to kick start have of succeeding, entirely rests on her Academy Award winning shoulders. And to the woman’s credit, she mostly succeeds with her natural charisma and the filmmakers’ painstaking attention to detail in creating an authentic live action version of the video game character in the look department. Vikander also injects much needed personality into the character that makes her somewhat relatable given the absurdity of the situation Lara finds herself in. I can only imagine how much more I would loved Vikander had she been provided with an actual script.
Ho yes people, it seems not even having a decorated lead can encourage producers to invest in a decent screenwriter or at the very least a script doctor to make the dialogue pop. Because for every nitpicking effort the filmmakers made to get Lara Croft to look the way she’s supposed to, they neglected to improve a vital portion that makes an action flick tick: its pacing, its story, or even a compelling motivation. The latter is really a sticking point with me as it weakens Lara’s journey as it’s not exactly clear whether Lara is driven by obsessive curiosity, dedication to her father, or desire to stop Trinity. Speaking of which, we never actually see or even hear what exactly what the hell does this organization even wants to do. I guess it’s to control the world, but it’s all pretty damn nebulous especially for something that’s so freaking important to know about your antagonist.
At the same time, this whole bit about Trinity is eerily similar to the 2001’s antagonists in the Illuminati, especially when you discover the reboot’s father had a prior relationship with the evil organization. To me, this is one of those things that you just don’t need, it was only convenient for the filmmakers so they can yell “SEQUEL!” right before the end credits. But Lara herself is enough of a draw for any successive sequel, especially if you’re going away from the ridiculous “I’m-so-amazing” rendition of the Jolie-films and more into a gritty-realistic female-led action series. Like The Hunger Games without skimping on the violence since your characters are no longer children. Which brings me to the action and, like The Hurricane Heist last week, it’s a bit of mixed bag.
On one hand, Vikander more than demonstrates some impressive physicality as she jumps around cliffs, kills mercenaries with whatever’s handy, and breathlessly makes it across obstacle courses directly inspired by scenes from the 2013 video game. On the other, some of the fight scenes aren’t well shot towards the end and if you’ve ever played the original game, you’re starting to wonder why you aren’t just playing the game or watching the scene on YouTube if it’s just going to be recreated absolutely faithfully. See, I’m not interested in just straight forward recreation of iconic gaming moments, I’m far more interested in what it replicate the feeling of playing that entertainment. Still, at the very least Vikander proudly joins Mila Jovovich and Kate Beckinsale as leads that people can genuinely believe can beat someone’s ass down to the ground. Hell, there’s one intense scene in the mud with pounding rain as Vikander subdues and takes someone out in the slowest way imaginable. And not in a bad way, more like a good slow burn.
I wish the rest of the film wasn’t as slow as some of these fights scenes though. I mean the film literally stops for five minutes for Lara Croft to solve two different puzzles, the first of which ground the pacing to a halt since there was no suspense to the scene at all, nothing urgent was happening, everybody was calm, it was just like watching someone solve an extremely large Rubik’s Cube apropos of nothing. Also, the film contrives a Chinese slave uprising subplot that feels like there were more scenes for, especially ones with a focus on Daniel Wu, but for whatever reason the included scenes in the final product all feel like cliff notes. It’s incredibly likely these scenes are going to be in the Chinese release, but with or without it’s inclusion, it kills the film’s pacing severely.
Even the “tomb” that is finally raided isn’t all that special. At least the games threw in a bunch of scary monsters for Lara to take on in addition to Raiders of the Lost Ark-style traps, but the creeping throughout this area could have been cut to be a bit more dynamic. I hate to keep going back to that 2001 film, but Jolie’s various temples had all sorts of ridiculous shit you never saw in an Indy flick, so this film could have at least topped itself there. But hey, until we get another Indiana Jones (and given the fact he’s owned by Mickey Mouse, we won’t have to wait long), this is genuinely the best we’re going to get for a while.
The film is at the end of the day: fine. It’s not amazing, but it’s by no means bad. But Vikander is really the reason to watch this movie since she single-handedly holds the film up entirely. So I’ll give this a solid…
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