It’s only March, and I do suspect that “Tomb Raider” 2018 will remain to be one of the saddest films of the year. The movie, in short, has no style, trading away the goofy over-the-top filmmaking of the Angelina Jolie “Tomb Raider” films for generic jungle grunge, and even at that it fails. By contrast, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” has more interesting cinematography and storytelling, and that is a movie that I think has no more than three minutes of interesting content.
“Tomb Raider” 2018 sees a recasted Lara Croft, played by “Jason Bourne” alumn Alicia Vikander, who, despite being a Golden Globe award-winner, has zero screen presence in the film. To be fair, she has no character to work with. Croft, who, very much like “Indiana Jones,” is an archeologist-turned-action-star, who uses her wealth to seek out dangerously hidden treasures. Much of Croft’s character in previous iterations of the franchise has been that of a reckless thrill seeker that gets away with too much – it was used as an excuse to include over-the-top videogame sequences in the games and video-game-like sequences in the films.
In 2013, Square Enix rebooted the “Tomb Raider” franchise, updating the game to be more realistic, and the addition of what I call jungle grunge was a huge part of the game’s aesthetic, and Square Enix committed to crafting a realistic, believable world (as believable as a game can really get), going so far as to making each individual strand of Croft’s hair its own interactable object. Of course, it still was a “Triple A” game released by a major publisher, so dramatization was necessary to keep the game interesting, but by in large the 2013 game accomplished its goals and as a result, is considered a refreshing and necessary entry into the series.
The 2018 film, however, is another matter. While the 2013 game fleshed Croft out a bit more and presented a rich and believable world, the film that that game spawned uses the guise of a strong female protagonist as a mask to excuse structural problems within the film. The film seeks to show us instead of Lara Croft succeeding in the face of huge, often ridiculous odds (except for the climax), “Tomb Raider” 2018 is a tale of failure. The first time we see Vikander’s version of Croft, she loses in a fight to a character we never see again. We then see the financial situation she is in, which is a problem completely of her own making. Croft has an inheritance lined up for her, but refuses to take it because she believes that her father, who had been absent for years, having disappeared on a treasure seeking trip, is alive. It gets to the point that, if Croft doesn’t sign the papers, the money will go away forever. Croft resolves to find her father, embarking on a trip that will require a notable amount of funds. Rather than signing the papers, giving her access to funds she could easily transfer back to her father if he was found to be alive, she earns the money herself, which is admirable, but completely unnecessary.
And this is a common theme in the film. Croft creates problems for herself so she can solve it, when the problem could have easily been avoided. A great example of this is the sequence in Hong Kong where Croft is looking for a sailor who would bring her to the island her father disappeared on. This version of Croft stumbles into the city, not aware of her surroundings, with almost no knowledge of the city itself, and ends up getting her bag snatched by someone she was asking for directions, a sequence that lasts at least 5 minutes. While this is a reality in a congested city like Hong Kong, it doesn’t paint Croft in a strong light; unlike Jolie’s version of the character, Vikander’s does not prepare and proves to not be good in a bind. The only reason why she got out of the Hong Kong scene alive is sheer dumb luck, as she just so happens to run into the particular sailor she needed to contact to bring her to the island, who scares away the bag-snatchers – Another common theme. Say what you will about the Jolie iteration of the character; dumb luck was involved in her exploits, but there was also a sheer amount of talent, precision and competency that elevated her into almost a super-herolike character. Vikander’s Croft is lucky to be alive, and for all the talk of the film being realistic, there are goofy scenes in the film, such as a sequence that sees Croft tumbling down a river, headed for a water fall. She proceeds to latch onto a crashed plane that is conveniently there, inevitably causing the plane to teeter off the ledge of the waterfall. She gets out of the situation by putting on a parachute with holes in it, which is probably the goofiest thing in the whole film. The filmmakers make up for this by having Croft find shrapnel form the plane in her side, which few actions movies would do, but the wound magically heals and is never seen again.
“Tomb Raider” 2018 is a “Tomb Raider” film that is embarrassed that it’s a “Tomb Raider” film. It doesn’t know the correct moments to execute the realism that would be more in line with the 2013 game; it doesn’t know when to have fun with itself, and as a result, its arbitrary over the top videogame/action movie moments feel awkward and out of place; and the story is not clever or interesting, as are its characters. The Jolie films might have been goofy, but Jolie’s version of Croft had a character that the audience could understand, and she had interesting relationships and interactions with the characters those movies presented. Laura Croft’s relationship with Alex West (Daniel Craig) is leagues more interesting than anything that happens in the 2018 film, whose characters are cookie cutter and unfocused; its set pieces, bland and uninteresting; and its twist, the inkling of an interesting idea cut way too short for it to develop into anything good.
“Tomb Raider” 2018 is just as interesting as the Dark Universe “The Mummy” remake. It’s a soulless movie that runs through the motions while wasting good talent. And the cast tries, in particular Dominic West as Croft’s father, but sheer effort can’t fix an uninspired, generic and nonsensical script. “Tomb Raider” 2018 is one of the saddest films of the year, and one of the biggest waste of a license in a long time. It’s as if the studio had this survival-adventure script sitting on a shelf for ages, and thought that the “Tomb Raider” license would let them sell enough tickets before anyone noticed that the film wasn’t any good.