By James Kenney.
TOMB RAIDER, which opened rather ingloriously in 2018 after much pre-release publicity, performed underwhelmingly at both the box office and in the eyes of the critics. I avoided the film myself, as I was never a video game disciple or self-conscious attempts at “tentpole movies,” and having embraced neither of the original TOMB RAIDER films starring Angelina Jolie, it seemed a safe pass. The only good thing in those films was Jolie, most capable of playing this cartoonish sexy/violent character hell-bent on raiding tombs. Hearing that Alicia Vikander was playing Lara Croft in this reboot did not stir enthusiasm on my part. A fine actress, she appeared most uncomfortable in the most recent, largely dreadful, BOURNE IDENTITY movie. I presumed Vikander needed a real script and character to do anything of note – the posturing necessary for her ridiculous Bourne part in a cynical Hollywood exercise appeared both beneath and beyond her.
In addition she’s not a woman of heft, and hardly seemed the physical type to play the Croft character. Indifferent-at-best reviews, combined with apathetic audience response and lowly box office led me to assume the worst. Every so often the public is right, and Warner Brothers and MGM’s labors to make yet one more Croft movie, based on a senseless, practically ancient video game and two underwhelming movies seemed a fool’s effort to squeeze life out of a “property.”
As usual, I seem neither in step with the intelligentsia or the rabble, as I enjoyed the 2018 TOMB RAIDER just fine. The gender-reversed Indiana Jones origin story, which of course is nonsense, is all the same lucidly told and competently staged by THE WAVE‘s Roar Uthaug, and Vikander is excellent, actually finding the pathos in a superficial video game character. While not physically gargantuan, Vikander uses her lithe, responsive physicality well. She’s petite enough to come off an underdog, and sporty enough to sell the physical bits. Some have grumbled about the cartoonish action, but RAIDER doesn’t go over the top into Loony Tune cartoon excess like much of modern action cinema, and at numerous times when Raider does get a bit, well, unrealistic, I could see that Uthaug was paying respect to sequences from the video game, and despite having never played it I enjoyed the efforts to have Vikander approximate the animated run of Croft shot from behind and above, the video game’s perspective.
The movie is not overstuffed, coming in at under two hours, a miracle in these modern times, and I felt myself amused at the end of this origin story when Croft accepts her Destiny as the “Tomb Raider,” procuring her signature guns from a pawn shop. Vikander plays both the wounded-abandoned-daughter and the ass-kicking heroine without a flaw, limited only by the character herself – Vikander’s Croft is perhaps only two-dimensional, but that sure beats one.
The direction is cleaner, and the storytelling more intelligible, then in either of the previous Croft movies. Now I guess I’m not what you call a trustworthy source on TOMB RAIDER as I have naught invested in the property, but I feel that it, like the enjoyable SOLO, was beaten up because of issues fandom has with its adored “properties.” They conceive of impossible-to-realize films in their minds and use the power of the internet, like Trump, to whip up a frenzy over perceived ills perpetrated on them by the finished films. My principal disappointment with Tomb Raider is one of Croft’s key final lines is “no s***,” reminding me that these films are made more for overgrown children than actual children. I don’t mind the irregular curse in a PG-13 property of course, but they must have desired 11 year olds to see this thing, and having a key punchline be so crude, is anti-productive, particularly as the line isn’t funny at all, even in context. My son asked me what she said and it was no joy repeating the line back to him.
But enough parental prudery. Vikander has put thought and effort into her work as Croft, focusing her attention on how to make Croft a movie heroine who is palpably human, so that we buy into her quest to pursue her father and then pursue the destiny he has laid out for her. So I’m in point of fact a little sad that there will likely be no more TOMB RAIDERs with Vikander. Much of the criticism aimed at this confection seem to be people thrashing at phantoms, not the film itself, which delivered all I anticipated from something called TOMB RAIDER. My tastes and susceptibilities may not match up with the target audience for such a work. To this video game novice and movie fanatic, TOMB RAIDER delivers a human-sized entertainment which indeed may seem modest in comparison to the enduring onslaught of Marvel Universe and JURASSIC PARK behemoths. TOMB RAIDER delivers some decent action set pieces, a lively pace, and a relatable and attractive heroine. Then again I feel the same about the 1980s Tanya Roberts SHEENA, which few like beside me and Pauline Kael. I’m fairly certain you could do much worse than the Alicia Vikander’s TOMB RAIDER on a Saturday night.