Tomb Raider is…

By Ray Kaiser
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Tomb Raider is...

I would like to preface this entire review by saying I am a huge fan of the source material, specifically the rebooted series of games on which this film is loosely based. Of course, I will try my best to be unbiased in my review, but I have no doubt my prior familiarity with the characters and story will make my experience different than someone going in with no knowledge of the games.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of things. Tomb Raider is solidly enjoyable if you go into it with the right expectations. And I know that sounds like a nice way of calling it bad, but I don’t think that’s the case. Is it amazing? Certainly not. But it stands on its own, in a great part carried by its cast. At the very least it’s infinitely better than the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider films. No, that’s not saying much. But at least it’s nowhere near as bad as those films were.

On a budget of 90 million, which is tiny as far as Hollywood budgets go, they used their money wisely. There aren’t a lot of big visual effects shots, but the few that are present look good, and I would say ended up looking a lot better than they did in the trailers. Particularly a certain scene involving a decrepit plane that was heavily featured in the promotional material looked a lot less glossy and rubbery in the final product.

As mentioned before, the cast really shines, and the film would suffer greatly if all the leading roles had not been cast so well. While it was hard for me to let go of Camilla Luddington’s performance as Lara Croft in the games, Alicia Vikander did an outstanding job, and truly embodied the character. She had a perfect action film “tough-as-nails but not invincible” feeling, which along with the film’s intense, albeit sparse, handling of injury and death, made for tense and enjoyable action sequences–All of the fights feeling like they had realistic odds, and all of the stunts feeling like Alicia Vikander could realistically pull them off. Dominic West fits his role as Lord Croft, Lara’s father, perfectly. Even his flashback scenes with a younger Lara felt good and surprisingly authentic as father-daughter interactions. Walton Goggins plays Mathias, the villain, and without giving too much away, was the perfect amount of unsettling and legitimately made me a bit uncomfortable at times. Daniel Wu plays a completely new character, but does so, surprise surprise, really well. And while his biggest role in western cinema prior to this has been a seven-foot tall monstrous green man in Warcraft, he’s a highly underrated actor in the west, most of his prowess being in Chinese cinema.

The film is very loosely, but very clearly, based on the 2012 reboot Tomb Raider game, and in some places even follows sequences from the game beat by beat. And not in a horrible 2005’s Doom kind of way with an awkward sequence that mimics gameplay, and more in a cinematic and storytelling parallels kind of way. That said, “loosely” is a key word, with most elements greatly diverging from the game’s story or being entirely new altogether. Which is understandable when you have to cram 10-15 hours of story into a single two hour runtime.

Perhaps the element most accurately replicated by the film was the general theme of survival and development of Lara’s character. Watching her develop from a hot-headed young woman chasing after her father’s legacy to a seasoned survivor who has familiarized herself with the horrors of doing what it takes to survive in harsh and trying environments was a relatively satisfying arc. But it was presented in a way that didn’t trivialize death, even of the nameless goons to a certain extent, and felt more like empowerment than it did the fetishizing “what’s your damage” kind of character development we see so troublingly often with female characters.

In the end, the story delivered by Tomb Raider felt like an inferior version of the one told by the game it was based off of. Especially in the supporting character department, despite Daniel Wu’s best efforts. That doesn’t mean it’s without its merits, though, and if you find yourself in the mood for an Indiana Jones-esq roamp with good action sequences, a serviceable plot, and more than competent performances from the actors, I would say Tomb Raider is definitely worth a watch.

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