Friday, March 23, 2018

Movie Review: TOMB RAIDER (2018)

Video game adaptations have always had a rough time finding their way, both financially and in quality, with only a handful making over $200 million at the worldwide box office, and only one coming in at the 50% or higher mark on Rotten Tomatoes.  And that one is the latest adaptation of Tomb Raider.  Now, don’t get what I’m saying confused…this isn’t the holy grail of video game movies, as its performance at the domestic box office has been quite poor, and it’s currently sitting at a 50% on Rotten Tomatoes.  However, this is a film that understands what it is, and leans right into it in all the best ways possible.

For those out there looking for a schlock fest like the original Tomb Raider films, this is not that.  There is definitely humor, but it’s more on par with the type of humor you’d find in a Mission: Impossible film.  And that’s one of the things that make this movie as good as it is.  It takes itself completely seriously when it needs to, but isn’t afraid to poke a little fun here and there.  This is very different from most video game adaptations, where we usually get either a “so bad, it’s good” type of film (like Mortal Kombat or Super Mario Bros.), or a just straight up bad film (like Doom or BloodRayne).  There have really not been any truly good video game movies, until now. 

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Tomb Raider is a film that I thoroughly enjoyed from beginning to end, and not because it’s garbage.  It’s actually quite the opposite.  This film gives us a great, albeit familiar story, and punches it up with a few unique elements, pulse-pounding action sequences, and stellar performances.  The star of the film, Alicia Vikander, is such a badass.  There are so many people out there who have been talking trash about her being cast as Lara Croft, for various reasons, most of which are all surface level and ignorant, but what I saw was a wonderful portrayal of a character that so many of us grew up with.  Does she look like the Angelina Jolie version?  No, and that’s okay.  In fact, that was one of the many things I loved about it.  She actually looks more like the current Lara Croft from the video game reboot, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for. 

From the very beginning, you could see how much of a badass she was.  But being a badass isn’t the only thing that makes up Lara Croft.  As an origin story, it’s important to get a feel for who this character is and why she is the way she is.  This is done to perfection in this film, as we get glimpses at her skills throughout, in simple, natural feeling ways.  The kickboxing scene shows her strength and determination, while still showing that she’s got a ways to go.  The fox hunt (which is one of my favorite scenes) shows her ability to think quickly.  Her understanding of the puzzle boxes and clues left by her father shows her deep intelligence, and leads into things later on in the film.  We are even shown how she learns to shoot a bow, making her use of one later on not feel out of place.  You understand that these are things she can do, because she’s trained and has studied for years, so it’s believable.  It’s details like this that prevent her from being labeled as a “Mary Sue”, or a character that, for no real reason, has the ability to do pretty much anything.  They can usually perform tasks that shouldn’t be possible given their amount of training or experience.

The success of this is, in large part, due to the fantastic work of two writers who are fairly new to the game, Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, and their director, Roar Uthaug.  This is Geneva’s debut as a writer, and she’s already been booked to write some other big films like the Dungeons & Dragons reboot, Sherlock Holmes 3, both ROM and M.A.S.K. from the Hasbro universe, Silver & Black (the Black Cat/Silver Sable movie from Sony), and even Marvel Studio’s upcoming film, Captain Marvel.  This is so exciting to me, because this was such a well-developed story with some great characters, that my confidence in these other movies going forward is boosted.

Tomb Raider wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is, however, without some of the great performances.  I’ve talked at length about the character of Lara Croft, but without Alicia Vikander giving it her all, this film could have just fell flat.  She was able to emote in a way that you don’t see often in films like this.  You could see the pain and suffering in her facial expressions.  It was captivating.  And her quick timing with the dialogue was spectacular.  Another great performance was Daniel Wu as Lu Ren.  He and Alicia had great chemistry and worked off of one another perfectly.  They were allies, they were friends, and they trusted one another…eventually.  And it was refreshing to not see them jammed together in some sort of romantic angle.  However, not all the performances were winners.  Walton Goggins' portrayal of Mathias Vogel was a bit one note to me.  He was just another villain with no real depth to him.  I was really hoping for more, but at least the heroes came out as good as they did, so I can’t really complain too much, especially because I'm so used to villains in these big action films not having much depth.

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One of the other things I want to talk about is the actual story itself.  As I said earlier, this story was great, but I couldn’t help but think it was a bit familiar at times.  At a few points throughout the film, I was comparing what was happening on screen to certain story points in the National Treasure films and even the Indiana Jones films, which is understandable, as this is definitely in a similar vein to those two franchises.  But it’s the unique parts that stuck with me.  For instance, the scene with the waterfall and the rusted airplane was one of my absolute favorite parts of this entire film.  It had me, literally, on the edge of my seat the entire time.  I knew that they’d never kill off the main character half way through the first film, but the tension was so high that the thought continued to cross my mind.  I was genuinely worried for Lara Croft’s life.  And the other part that really intrigued me was the reveal at the end that this fairytale about Himiko was actually true…in a sense.  Using an ancient pathogen was a cool twist and fit right in with what you might expect from the games.  The whole time it had you wondering if there really was something supernatural going on, and even though there wasn’t, it was still a satisfying reveal.

All-in-all, this was a great action flick with a solid story and some great performances.  This is definitely the best video game adaptation that I’ve ever seen, and I really hope we get to see the next chapter, especially after seeing her suit up in her classic Tomb Raider gear.  So, go check out Tomb Raider if you’re looking for good, action-packed evening.

The Merc’s Score: 8.5/10

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