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Review: ‘Tomb Raider Trades Dumb Adventure for Dull Grit

The original Tomb Raider movies received a lot of flak for being silly, but they were honestly no more silly than most James Bond style treasure hunting films. Those directors and Angelina Jolie were smart enough to know that you can’t make movies about the Illuminati, attacking statues, and golden spheres too seriously. Still, most fans and critics didn’t seem to dig it, and this remake aims to avoid all the ridiculousness of its predecessors. There are no goofy gadgets, silly outfits, over-the-top action sequences, or even supernatural hijinks. All the stuff that was considered too stupid for whatever dignity the Tomb Raider series had is now replaced with a bland adventure, smeared in dirt and melodrama.

Alicia Vikander now plays Lara Croft as a young troublemaker, not too keen on inheriting her missing father’s fortune. She’d rather be boxing and bike riding than being stuck in boardrooms and conferences calls. It turns out the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree when she discovers her father’s secret lair of his treasure hunting side-project. Perhaps there’s a clue in all his documents about where he disappeared to for all these years. Perhaps he was seeking some ancient artifact of untold power. Perhaps there’s some evil man who wants for himself.

All of this is to be expected, and Tomb Raider doesn’t stray off course from this subgenre. The writing is so narrowly focused on uncovering the secret of the mythical Himiko and her death curse that it never stops to let a character catch their breath. This pacing quickly kicks Vikander into a number of intense action scenes where she gets to leap from boats, scale rocks, and escape from a crashing plane. This direction also doesn’t allow much room for character, making her daughter-father arc so unbelievably cheesy it practically nullifies whatever darker tone the film was going for.

To compensate for the lack of charisma, Tomb Raider goes the extra mile to turn Vikander into the ultimate action star by having her get down and dirty; she’ll battle a man to the death in the mud and pull a glass shard out of her belly. It gets pretty brutal at times and would be enjoyable if not for the sad fact that I knew all of this would be leading up to a tomb with traps and curses that will explode.

The villain of the picture is played by Walton Goggins, a man who can dominate the screen if allowed to. Unfortunately, he’s stuck in a role where he can only act like a crazy tyrant by merely saying he is crazy. He also has two daughters that he misses, but you won’t see them past a mere mention. We just have to take his word for it that he’s a maniacal figure working for an evil organization. Which organization and what do they want? Therein lies the film’s ultimate twist which, while unexpected, teases a much better story had it not been saved for a climactic stinger.

While there’s no shortage of action, it’s amazing how a film such as Tomb Raider strives to be so lackluster with its supporting elements, threatening to not fall into typical trope traps, only to end up being boring by avoiding them. Dominic West could have carried some emotion as Lara’s dad, but he’s oddly restrained in moments where there should be more to film’s indulgent sappiness. Daniel Wu plays the supporting role of a sea captain that may fancy Lara, but he does little more than provide cover fire as his pathos is kicked to the curb. Even the tomb feels par for the course as far as movie deathtraps go, with the usual decorations of spiders crawling over skeletons and hidden spikes that spring out of the floor.

For as uneven as Tomb Raider plays, I must admit it does share a commonality with the video games in the puzzles Lara must solve. Himiko’s tomb can only be accessed by spinning rims in a specific order and matching colors to light. All that’s missing is the onscreen prompt of “Push A” and you have yourself a bonafide full-motion video game right there. Unfortunately, this is a movie and one where I wish the quick-time events slowed down over the two-hour running time to allow for characters and energy as strong as Vikander’s kicks.

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