OnScreen Review: "Tomb Raider"

Ken Jones

  • Chief Film Critic

Tomb Raider is one of the most popular video game franchises in the history of video games. It has spawned several video games over several generations of platforms. Angelina Jolie famously portrayed the iconic Lara Croft character over two lackluster movies back in 2001 and 2003. After a recent reboot of the character on the latest video game generation, the character has been rebooted on the big screen, this time with the very talented Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander stepping into role.

The film apparently draws its story from the rebooted story from 2013’s Tomb Raider, which was released on the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 and eventually on the PS4 and Xbox One. After the disappearance of her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), Lara Croft (Vikander) is a London bike courier despite being the inheritor of her father’s significant estate. Finally, being confronted with the reality that her father is gone, she assumes her inheritance and, in the process, receives a puzzle box that eventually unlocks the location of where her went and may have disappeared, a remote island off Japan that legend claims houses the remains of a queen named Himiko who had the power of life and death. She sets off to find the island, along with the assistance of a ship captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu). They soon reach the island and a shadowy organization led by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) excavating the island in the hopes of finding Himiko and using her power for their own nefarious reasons.

Based on a video game, the film itself does a pretty impressive job of incorporating gameplay into the structure of the movie. Tomb Raider is the kind of game that is more than just button mashing; it requires some stealth, timing, and problem-solving to defeat adversaries and advance the story. This comes into play several times during the movie: a bike race through the street of London, on a boat in the middle of a raging storm, when Lara is inside an old crashed WWII plane teetering on the edge of a waterfall. Those sequences and a few more felt just like things I had played in video games before.

It effectively captures the experience of playing a Tomb Raider game. However, ask anyone who has watched their friend play a video game, there is only so much enjoyment that can be had in watching someone else play a video game before you want to play for yourself. Tomb Raider is not able to entirely overcome this obstacle; it lacks the gratification and satisfaction that comes from beating a level, solving a game’s puzzle, or completing the game.

The rest of the film is very familiar territory, well-trodden story from other action-adventure movies. Elements of Indiana Jones are here, as well as plenty of other influences. The one thing I did really appreciate about the story is that they ground the mythical legend of Himiko in something realistic rather than having the movie veer into the fantastical in the final act. It’s a nice nod to how myths and legends can be based on reality that people do not understand.

Vikander is an actress who has proven her acting ability. This role is not one that is going to show of her acting chops but gives her a chance to show her versatility in doing something different than what she has shown to date. She is capable and believable in the role. Goggins, an actor who has a certain level of charisma (ask anyone who watched Justified), is actually a bit of a disappointment here as he is not given much interesting or inspired. He’s just a generic, middle-management villain who just wants to get off the island but can’t leave until his higher-ups get what they sent him to retrieve.

Video games have a terrible track record being adapted into movies. Tomb Raider is arguably the best video game adaptation to the big screen ever. Really, though, that is damning the movie with faint praise because there is not many who can lay claim to that crown. As an overall film, it is just middle of the road.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars