TOMB RAIDER (review) — Lifting The Curse From Video Game Movies

BAILEY T. STEEN | FRIDAY, MARCH 16, 2018

Alicia Vikander, the Academy Award winner from 2015’s The Danish Girl, braves the cursed lands of video game movies as Lara Croft in this delightful take on the iconic Tomb Raider franchise.

It’s not uncommon for heroes of the exotic, brawny and digital origin variety to have their transition to film be one laced with boredom. It’s funny enough Vikander’s real-life boyfriend Michael Fassbender faced this reality in last year’s failure to adapt Assassins Creed.

Vikander, facing an army of sex symbol craving fanboys condemning her small breasts and an enclave critics ready for vulgar disparagement, was facing the firing squad. Playing Croft, much like her experience with arrows, bullets and all-around death, she avoids this sad fate in spectacular form.

Gone are the Jolie days with excessive shower scenes, and filmmakers desperate to recreate the brooding Trinity archetype from The Matrix — now traded for a kickboxing, charismatic thinker, laced with a sensitive touch, that transcends the old short clothes wearing polygon form and functions like a real human character. This is also to the credit of Roar Uthaug, the Norwegian film director of exotic indy fame, as well as his cabal of writers recently tasked with Marvel’s latest female-empowerment venture Captain Marvel, injecting their latest action film with a sexually neutral, exploratory narrative you could see coming from a Tony and Ridley Scott.

Croft, the heir to an aristocratic dynasty left by dear father Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West, The Wire), is still in denial about his untimely fate, disappearing seven year prior to the events in the film. In pure Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey fashion, she finds the items left in his will to lead her down a mysterious path of unforetold curses, riches and spiritual enlightenment, all resting in the old forsaken tomb of the ancient Japanese queen Himiko, which has parties good and bad on the ultimate hunt.

Such a grand plot gives Vikander and company their fair share of unpretentious playroom, sparring off loveable allies in Lu Ren (Daniel Wu, Warcraft) and archetypal baddies Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins, The Hateful Eight) in a B-movie journey that serves its pop culture purpose in a welcoming light — untethered to the unending excess goals of true cinematic sexual service (which we’re more than tired of) or unneeded Oscar glory.

It’s a film that knows unconditional fun truly is their key to success.

This shift in both narrative and character focus, placing the fallible hero in the lion’s den, relieves the tension of video game movies past. Warcraft director Duncan Jones entered similar cinematic minefields, sporting a smile on his face as he offered spacious landscapes and glistening props, while the whole trying to hard package ultimately blew up in his face — leaving the sour taste of boredom littered from previous competitors such as 300: Rise of an Empire. Alternatively, Tomb Raider enjoys the action cliches that ring lovely, the dangerous island set pieces that cost millions and the one liners that sprout a smirk across your face.

Tomb Raider does for potential action-adventure series what Tom Cruises’ disaster The Mummy got so devilishly wrong, trading the multi-layered schlock-fest, ham-fisted attempts at humour and ‘cinematic universe’ build-up garbage for the essentials: quick plots, radiant locales, demonic ventures, maybe a chuckle or two and a daring heroine of the loveable variety. It’s by no means the most revolutionary flick, given we’re not dealing with the likes of a Denis Villeneuve master project or an introspective, expansive look at what makes our hero tick and falter, but it’s the kind of Croft to leave one satisfied — this time by her own adventurous merits.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey T. Steen is a journalist, editor, artist and film critic based in Victoria, Australia, but is also Putin’s Puppet on occasion.

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