Lara Croft is the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer who vanished when she was scarcely a teen. Now a young woman of 21 without any real focus or purpose, Lara navigates the chaotic streets of trendy East London as a bike courier, barely making the rent. Determined to forge her own path, she refuses to take the reins of her father’s global empire just as staunchly as she rejects the idea that he’s truly gone. Advised to face the facts and move forward after seven years without him, even Lara can’t understand what drives her to finally solve the puzzle of his mysterious death. (from Warner Bros.)
The video game movie genre is probably one of the most consistently disappointing and oft maligned genres of films. It’s so much so that some consider there to be a “video game movie curse.” Obviously, the idea of that is rather silly, but it’s safe to say the track record for video game movies is quite poor (Although I still feel like the Prince of Persia is more underrated than it gets credit for). But popular video game franchise Tomb Raider was first given the theatrical treatment with Angelina Jolie in the title role back in 2001, which debuted with mixed results. It was given a slightly improved sequel two years later in 2003, titled The Cradle of Life, but it still was just a cheesy mess of a film. In 2013, the franchise was given a revamp and was reimagined from the ground up with a new video game that made Lara Croft less of a buxom, young man’s dream girl and made her a more real, tangible character. (For the first time, she actually looked like a real human being!) With the relaunch came plans for a new film, and earlier this year, for the first time in 15 years, Lara Croft returned to the big screen.
Academy Award-winning actress Alicia Vikander takes the central role of Lara Croft this time around, with Norwegian director Roar Uthaug behind the camera. Vikander is a smart choice if the studio is looking to start over fresh (although, to be fair, Angelina Jolie is also an Oscar-winner, but the scripts to those films weren’t strong), and she fits the look and feel of today’s Lara Croft. Vikander certainly has the acting chops to make this movie work, and this time around she offers a very vulnerable, very real Lara for audiences. She more or less is a mash-up of Indiana Jones and maybe a hint of Jason Bourne (perhaps while he was still learning to fight?), and it makes for a fun and entertaining adventure film.
Removing the fact that this is a film based on a video game, Tomb Raider mostly works as a standalone film and story. The story isn’t the strongest–and the archaeological pursuits of the story aren’t much more elaborate than something you may have seen back in the early 90s in an episode of MacGyver–but Tomb Raider here serves more so as an origin story, when we’re just first meeting Lara Croft and first seeing her get her feet wet as an adventurer. And the film does a good job relaunching and reestablishing this character. It’s not the most gripping or thrilling origin story, but it did leave me interested in seeing Vikander return as Lara again for a future film (however unlikely that may be). This Tomb Raider is pretty good, especially compared to its predecessors, but it seems to lack a little something to make it great. Maybe Lara’s just a little too dry of a character (she, sadly, doesn’t quite have the charm of Indiana Jones, but she does have that more steely presence that Bourne has — however, you can feel for him as a victim of circumstances more than anything). But Vikander’s Lara is still likable, and it’s enjoyable to follow along with her on her journey (even if you kind of want to nudge her and encourage her to lighten up a bit). Uthaug does a respectable job directing the film, giving us some decent action and fight sequences (her muddy fight with a random thug in the jungle in the dark is pretty memorable, even bringing to mind some of those similar scuffles from the show LOST). I like that the film doesn’t resort to exploiting the character’s sexuality to draw in the viewers (like they clearly did with Jolie). Vikander is attractive in a natural way without the film trying to take advantage of that. With that said, we get a story that focuses on character and relationships as it should. But Uthaug trades a sweeping, Indiana Jones-style score for something more modern than timeless. Modern pop songs introduce us to Lara and appear for a couple story beats, but it does transition to a more adventurous score once Lara sets out on her quest. Sadly, though, the music isn’t very memorable. And this is the kind of genre of film that needs a memorable score to take it to the next level.
But Vikander is surrounded by good and capable supporting talent. Dominic West plays her father and is good in the role, while Daniel Wu serves as an ally to Lara and is an excellent addition to the cast as Lu Ren. Walter Goggins plays a pretty good villain in Mathias Vogel, despite being a relatively thinly portrayed foil for the Crofts. Even British funnyman Nick Frost is good in his short appearance, joining Wu as someone I’d love to see return should a sequel get the green light.
The movie teases a New Age-y spiritual tale that may make some sensitive to these sort of themes uneasy. But the story grounds the themes in reality (albeit with a twist) that makes things appear not quite as they originally seemed (and a whole lot less spiritual than the original legend suggests). And while not everything about the story or everyone’s motives makes a whole lot of sense, it still makes for an intriguing story (even if it’s not quite as compelling as the movie could have benefited from).
The content is pretty rough, even for a PG-13 outing, but it still fits within the broad limits of today’s scope for the rating. There’s one mouthed “F” word by Lara that is masked by a nearby horn/alarm sound, as well as a handful of other profanities–but it isn’t pervasive. There isn’t any sexual content, beyond Frost’s character being accused of flirting with Lara by his significant other, but the violence in the film is relatively high. Many miscellaneous characters are shot or hit with arrows, with some puffs of blood spraying in a few instances. Lara sustains cuts and bruises throughout the entire film, and at one point, we see a piece of wood sticking out of her abdomen which she pulls out slowly (with some mildly bloody results). We later briefly see a close-up of the wound being stitched up. The worst moment, however, comes later when we see a person’s hand start decomposing in a mummy-like fashion. Their skin then turns purple and looks deformed with veins popping as they turn into a zombie-like form before being gunned down. We see a couple more variations of this, too, before the film’s end.
When it comes to reboots, Tomb Raider is one of the few that does it right. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s leaps and bounds an improvement above its predecessors. While its lackluster reception most likely jeopardizes the future of the franchise (and chances of further sequels), this is one I wouldn’t mind seeing more of.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 6/8/18)
4K UHD / Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Along with the feature film in 4K UHD, the 2D Blu-Ray disc and digital copy of the film are the following Extras:
Tomb Raider in 4K UHD – For years, Blu-Ray has been my viewing medium of choice, but the more I watch movies in 4K, the more I’m starting to really notice a difference in the resolution. While Blu-Ray is still an elite medium with superior picture and sound quality to DVD, I’m noticing how much smoother, crisper and less grainy 4K UHD is. Tomb Raider looks beautiful in 4K, so if you have the viewing capabilities for this newer format, I recommend it. Plus this combo pack comes with a standard blu-ray disc as well.
Tomb Raider: Uncovered is the first of four featurettes and is about the return of the character and this new version being an origin story, with her becoming the Lara Croft we know. This Lara is more vulnerable than the tougher Lara from years ago. The featurette delves into Alicia Vikander as an actor and her performance as Lara, while also covers the director, the film’s “gritty” action, and taking the production on location to film in South Africa.
Croft Training is about Alicia working out and training to become Lara. It talks about Alicia’s diet, regiment, and shows us behind-the-scenes footage of her training in the gym and working out. (1 “kick *ss”)
Breaking Down the Rapids focuses on the stunts in the film, including the stunt girls who helped with Alicia’s action scenes (although she did do many stunts herself). We also see how they actually built a river on a backlot for her to float down safely.
Lara Croft: Evolution of an Icon – Here we hear from some enthusiasts of the Tomb Raider franchise and Lara Croft’s character. We also learn that Alicia had grown up with the games as a fan herself. This gives a nice little recap of the history of the character and game franchise, too. (1 “kick *ss,” 1 “bad *ss”)
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 6/8/18)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Lara is often seen wearing a tank top that shows some cleavage, but it’s not really focused on in a sensual manner;
Vulgarity/Language: 1 mouthed “F” word covered by the sound of a horn (and another sort of incomplete one); 5 “S” words, 1 “G-d’s sake,” 2 “d*mn,” 1 “g*dd*mn,” 1 “H*ll”
Alcohol/Drugs: We see Lu very drunk.
Blood/Gore: Lara has some blood on her arm. We later see her arm bandaged up; Lara wakes after being knocked out and touches the back of her head and finds blood on her fingers; A man is shot and we see some blood on his clothing; We see a bloody cut on Lara’s nose; We see some bloody scrapes on Lara’s face and body; We see a piece of sharp wood sticking out of Lara’s abdomen. She’s visibly in a lot of pain and slowly pulls it out; We briefly see a close-up of her wound being stitched up; Some people are shot, with little sprays of blood shown; We see a lot of skeletons in a tomb; A spike shoots out of the ground and impales a guy; We see a sea of skeletons; A mummified woman’s body in a tomb deteriorates once the air comes in contact with it; A man starts being eaten away and deteriorating (it’s pretty intense). His skin turns purple and rots quickly with big veins popping out; They break a mummified finger off a corpse; A person’s arm looks infected and diseased;
Violence: In the opening scene, we see some violent imagery on old drawings of what looks like an evil witch with dead souls reaching up to her; We see Lara kickboxing in a ring and getting punched and beaten; A guy crashes his bike during a race; Lara crashes her bike and it flips over a car, throwing her to the ground; Lara spills hot coffee on Max; Lara is followed while in Hong Kong and they steal her bag. She then chases after them and after she puts one in a head lock and gets her bag back, they pull a knife on her and chase her back; Lu points a shotgun at the thieves. After they leave, he falls off the top of the boat onto the deck (he’s drunk). In the next scene, she hoses him down with water to sober him up; A massive storm tosses their boat and the waves toss Lu and Lara around inside. The boat hits a rock, they end up jumping or falling off the boat; Lara washes up on shore and is struck in the back of the head with the butt of a gun; Thugs fire rifles in the air and push their captives around; Vogel shoots and kills a man who is sick and weak and then points the gun at Lara; Lu takes a shovel to the face of a couple bad guys. They shoot at Lara and he gets shot and is later kicked in the face; Lara falls in a river and struggles as it sweeps her away; We see Lara trying to get out of the wreckage of a rusty plane as it starts to fall off a cliff; A man comes up behind Lara and chokes her, so she bites his arm to get free. They fight and struggle. She forces his face into a puddle and drowns him as he struggles to get his gun and shoot her; We see some explosions while the bad guys are blasting; Lara shoots a guy in the chest with an arrow; Vogel’s team open fire on their captives as they fight back. Some people are shot, with little sprays of blood shown. We see a guy get blown up by grenade launcher; Lara shoots more guys with arrows. Lu beats a guy up one-handed with a rifle; Richard is hit in the back with a gun and hit in the face; Lara shoots a guy with an arrow; A spike shoots out of the ground and impales a guy; We see a sea of skeletons; A mummified woman’s body in a tomb deteriorates once the air comes in contact with it; A man starts being eaten away and deteriorating (it’s pretty intense). His skin turns purple and rots quickly with big veins popping out. He then fires his rifle at people, so Vogel shoots him; They break a mummified finger off a corpse; Lara stabs a thug; Richard shoots a man in the leg; An infected zombified man attacks another man, who then shoots it; A spiky, whirling trap strikes a bad guy, killing him; A person’s arm looks infected and diseased; SPOILERS: Vogel and Lara have a very violent and rough hand-to-hand fight where he overpowers her. He then takes a climbing ax and holds it to her throat, threatening to kill her with it. After an explosion goes off (where a person kills themselves), she fights back and shoves a bag containing the mummified finger into his mouth. He quickly gets infected as he chokes and she kicks him off a ledge. We see him fall into a pit of skeletons.