By: Steve Pulaski
The American public talks about professional sports as the place where second and third chances at redemption are routinely given, but consider Hollywood's quickness to forgo the past in favor of an optimistically brighter future. Not even ten years after a sequel to Fantastic Four grossly underperformed, Fox thought it wise to hit the reset button amidst a booming market for superhero films. They proved that even that sector of film is not impenetrable. We're now onto our third Spider-Man franchise in under two decades, the most recent spawned just three years after the public felt The American Spider-Man 2 was a letdown. Need I go further and mention how other studios perceived Baywatch, CHiPS, The Lone Ranger, and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword— all films based on properties that long ago faded from the minds of the populous — as works destined to be the next big thing only to awaken and see appalling box office returns?
We can add Tomb Raider to the list of properties given second chances, of course coming fifteen years after Angelina Jolie played the titular character for what would be the final time in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life. That sequel to the 2001 origin story of the respective character boasted mixed reviews and modest box office receipts that might've justified a sequel had Jolie been willing to go along with it. However, she knew the series was, as the Eagles wisely put it, taken to the limit in terms of its cinematic potential being reached. Warner Bros., who is distributing Roar Uthaug's haphazardly realized reboot, should've known better and moved on from the one-time popular video-game character (if you're a millennial, check your crawlspace or attic for a dusty copy of the 1996 PlayStation game). While you're at it, instead of shelling out money to see this film, unearth your system or fire up an emulator and silently hope Aeon Flux isn't the next one to get this same kind of "forgiveness" treatment from Hollywood.
Tomb Raider unfolds like a video-game you're incapable of playing with cut-scenes you don't have the luxury of skipping. It follows Lara Croft, played by Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander, who discovers previously untold secrets about her missing father through his old business partner. She reveals that Lara's father spent countless hours researching Himiko, the Queen of Yamatai, who was said to have the power to end a person's life with a simple touch. Lara's father kept several journals that housed a lifetime's worth of research, but disappeared in the process of searching for Yamatai off the coast of Hong Kong. After hearing this news, Lara teams up with a young Hong Kong boater (Daniel Wu) and the two set sail for the mysterious island. Once their ship is caught in the middle of a devastating sea-storm, however, the two are captured by Vogel (Walton Goggins), a rival archaeologist (if there ever was such a thing) to Lara's father, and commissioned into slavery until Lara leads an uprising.
One of the film's strongest scenes is almost a complete diversion from the plot. It happens early, involving Lara entering a seedy pawn-shop run by a bearded Nick Frost looking to obtain some cash by pawing a family heirloom. Frost's character is a total oddball, but his presence and timing liven up a film that is too busy either taking its self too seriously or rendering its story interchangeable. In true video-game-to-film-adaptation fashion, Tomb Raider undermines the dramatic heft behind Lara as a character to the point where she could be mistaken for the villain given how much she's assaulted and kicked around in her own film. When she's not avoiding hazards or death in the knick of time, she's performing acrobatics in midair, the likes of which she'd be lucky to survive without whiplash alone. Vikander has proven herself to be an actress capable of handling weighty material, but she struggles to humanize a character screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons apparently don't want to see developed beyond an archetype. Where Jolie's Lara Croft was oft criticized for lacking seriousness or a convincing victim of real danger, Vikander's rendition is weightless and ineffective in an entirely different way.
Since the film can't even get its primary character down, expecting any noteworthy supporting characters to emerge is a product of fool's optimism; the kind that makes you really appreciate a flirtatious pawnbroker all the more. Daniel Wu's drunkard swashbuckler is underused as soon as him and Lara set course in search of her father, while Walton Goggins is a second-rate villain at best in terms of the gravitas he brings to his scenes. Much like avatars in a video-game, the cast of characters spend much of their time scrambling from place-to-place, harboring hazy objectives with little human-interest to be sustained over the two hours Tomb Raider asks of us.
Tomb Raider also, if you haven't already figured out, is very much an origin story, as if we need another one of those. Of course, there's the understandable desire for most writers to provide an introduction to their characters. And yet, Uthaug's film nor its script value Lara Croft as someone worthy of depth and complexion, so to spend an upwards of two hours watching her dodging every obstacle as if she's been tasked to complete the most insanely difficult stations at boot-camp is a lofty test of the audience's patience. It would help if the film, I don't know, knew how to be both entertaining and interesting without distilling its heroine down to a caricature and her origins down to a series of perfunctory action sequences.
Save for a few amusing action sequences, one involving a Premium Rush-style bike-chase through a crowded time square, and another showing Lara Croft leap and hurdle herself on boats and precariously made docks in order to retrieve her stolen luggage, Tomb Raider is a generic slog. A film with all of the low-rent action cliches of the nineties given a dime-store makeover with a grossly inflated budget that screams contemporary, it's a brutally basic attempt to (re)introduce a character that, once again, sets up her up for another shaky big-screen franchise.