So, I’ve admitted to you all before that I kind of adore the old Tomb Raider movie. Angelina Jolie doing her own stunts with a plot so cheesy and thin it could’ve been sold at taco bell was my fricking JAM. I went into this one with some trepidation, quieted somewhat by my love of Alicia Vikander and my confidence in her ability to project ‘tude and act badass.
I was skeptical, largely, of the grim and gritty action premise the trailer promulgated, when the video games are action puzzlers. Is there death? Are there fights? Sure, but the core of it was figuring stuff out.
This new Tomb Raider does a fair job of translating the puzzling to the screen and definitely sold Vikander as a badass action hero. It is also much more diverse than the early 2000s films, which is not a high bar, given how white and (sadly) overwhelmingly male they were.
The gritty definitely was wedged into the film, though. When our main villain is introduced, there is some of the kind of head-fuckery and open gaslighting that is something I truly can’t stand in movies. They do it for what we’ll call “kick the dog” reasons. We know this guy is bad because he comes across as intense, a little unhinged and because he hurts people when there’s no particular reason to do so.
I found all the kick-the-dog moments from him to be super predictable and formulaic, which was actually helpful for my sitting through them. And of course, this being an action movie aimed at younger folks, he gets his comeuppance in a satisfying and narratively appropriate way.
Our villain is not our heroine, Lara Croft’s, foil, but rather her absent father’s. The villain is being villainous and trying to do it efficiently because he’s desperate to see his daughters again. Meanwhile, Lara has grown up without a father figure because to her father, keeping the world (and especially Lara) safe is more important than being in her life. The plot could’ve been reasonably played the other way around if the sympathies were switched, honestly.
But the plot in a movie like this is really not the point.
The action was actively awesome and gasp-inducing. I’ve seen videos of Vikander working out and muscling up for this role and she definitely sold all the stunts her character was supposed to be performing. The parts where she’s performing feats of strength and daring are probably the best parts of the movie. And her characterization is pretty solid – we get a chance to see what she’s like before her adventure really begins and learn about some of the traits that serve her the best: intelligence, stubbornness, athleticism and persistence.
She has a reasonable counterpart in a character portrayed by Daniel Wu: Lu Ren. Ren is part comic relief, part sidekick and part eye candy and sells them all pretty well.
A lot of the violence we see feels really vivid and we see it up-close and personally. There is one murder in particular that I found to be really visceral. I’m almost amazed that the film got a pg-13 rating. I suspect it was bargained down by cutting things and this makes me wonder what scenes we *didn’t* get to see.
The film (unsurprisingly) sets itself up for an indeterminate amount of sequels, and frankly I hope it gets at least a few. I’ve always thought that a Lara Croft movie done really well could be a badass female answer to Indiana Jones, and even though this movie didn’t really get us there, I feel as though the characterization and world-building in this film gives a lot more footholds for climbing to that height than the 2001 film did.
I’d like to see more humor in the mix, if we do get another one, but I’ve always preferred camp to grit, and I may well be in the minority, there. I’d also like to see more puzzle engagement (there is some and they do a good job of making what puzzle scenes exist seem vital and action-rich). Overall, it was an entertaining movie and worth seeing, in spite of being a little predictable and a little grim.
I really hope it does well enough that we get to see more of the character and the world they’ve set up.