Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: "Tomb Raider" sets a new standard for video game movies, but is far from great

Tomb Raider Review
I say this much before we really begin this review. I like video games, but I am not a huge gamer. I don’t obsessively play for hours and hours at a time, movies are my thing and I spend more hours plucking away at movies compared to games, but I do like video games. I can see why video games never go over very well when they are adapted into movies. Character development is pretty thin on video games, but that’s actually okay. It comes with the territory, because since you are the one at the controls of a character in a video game, you kind of establish a piece of yourself on that avatar. So, it can sink or swim when a movie writer is asked to give a blank avatar a personality. Not only that, but video game adaptations have felt like an afterthought to studios since the beginning, so why would it end now? I never played any Lara Croft: Tomb Raider games, so I don’t have much perspective on them.

There was some dumb fun to be had in the first half of Angelina Jolie’s movie from 2001, and after the first thirty or so minutes, then it just became dumb. I actually have the movie sitting in my parent’s house in my hometown of Peoria, and I remember getting the movie as a teenager. I am sure that more for my attraction to Jolie then it was for anything in the movie. But the sequel, yeah, I barely could make it through that one. I never would have expected to see the movie being rebooted for a new franchise, and I honestly didn’t know what to think about it.

Out of all the video game adaptations I’ve seen, I have to say that “Tomb Raider” is my favorite. Now, does that mean it’s a great movie? Not necessarily. It just means that out of all video game adaptations made so far, I like this one the most. One of the highlights of this film is how they handle Lara Croft. First of all, Alicia Vikander came to play. It seems each and every new film she stars in is a mission statement for her, how can she push herself as an actress more and more? She’s already starred in a wide-range of films, like “Ex Machina,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” “Son of Gun” and “The Danish Girl.” Here, she does her own stunts, which is pretty impressive no matter who you are. Second of all, Vikander is playing a very vulnerable Lara Croft here. The film takes its time setting up this Lara Croft, doing everything she can to forget the passing of her father, to forget the inheritance she can have at any time. There is a good portion of the movie focusing on Lara being herself, something we don’t get a lot of in action movies.

You could kind of think of this as a “Batman Begins” version of Lara Croft, and that’s definitely something that appealed to me. While I don’t agree with this sentiment, there are many out there who are tired of the more kid-friendly superhero and franchise films coming out, and perhaps this will be more up your alley. There is a heavier, more stern tone to this film. Those seeking a fun Indiana Jones-like movie should keep trucking, because that’s not what got made. The vulnerability of Vikander’s Lara Croft is what sold me on much of this movie. She isn’t an invulnerable superhero here. She isn’t a great fighter at the beginning of the movie, in fact, she isn’t a great fighter throughout the movie. That gives her time to think things through, becoming a fighter as she goes along, studying herself and her environment. When she gets hurt, she doesn’t just pop back up like nothing happens. The movie takes its time for her to assess the situation, cry and heal. It’s a movie that isn’t afraid to take its time developing Croft as a character.

The story itself? Well, it’s okay. Lara finds a hidden compartment at her home belonging to her deceased father Lord Richard Croft (Dominick West) who leads her to a remote island in Japan that holds the tomb of an ancient witch who could kill people with her very touch. Seems like there is an organization called Trinity who is obsessed with finding ancient artifacts of destruction, and if Trinity finds this dead witch, bad things will happen. Fascinated, Lara goes around the world with Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) and of course Trinity is there, lead by the always awesome Walton Groggins. It’s okay. It gets pretty predictable pretty fast. There is a scene that lifts so shamelessly from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” that I kind of laughed. Lara goes around the island, fighting bad guys with little to no effort at all. For an island that is apparently dangerous to get off, they sure wrap things up effortlessly. For an action adventure movie that has roots in Indiana Jones, it’s an oddly passive experience.

One of my biggest pet peeves of modern movies is the over-abundance of franchise building. Simply put, it’s starting to affect the way movie storytelling is being told. The end of “Tomb Raider” doesn’t feel like the conclusion to a motion picture, but more like a finale to the first season of a television show. Movies aren’t TV shows though, and it’s starting to get a little annoying when movies don’t really conclude like they used to do. It’d be nice if a studio made a franchise movie without a sequel in mind, even if that is a part of the plan. Make sense?

But hey, Walton Groggins is appropriately slimy as the bad guy, and he isn’t necessarily the mustache-twirling baddie we come to expect in movies like this. If they decide to make more “Tomb Raider” movies, then I’ll definitely be in line. I like Vikander’s vulnerable Croft and I like how they’ve humanized the characters in this movie. There are moments that are big fun, I just hoped it went deeper with its characters and premise.

FINAL GRADE: C+

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