I must say, I enjoyed Tomb Raider.
That’s probably breaking news, especially for a film that could have quickly spun into a spacial waste. But while assuming the titular role, Alicia Vikander has brought a ferocious grittiness to a franchise that in its previous incarnation, was more James Bond than Indiana Jones.
To recap, Laura Croft, daughter of a deceased archaeologist named Richard Croft (Dominic West), is adrift. She works as a courier, barely able to pay the monthly rent for her kickboxing lessons.
While watching, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Tomb Raider and Tron: Legacy. Two offsprings of purportedly dead wealthy fathers, who would rather live a “normal” existence than assume the wealth and power left to them. However, based on a video game of the same name, the film is essentially an origin story.
The first ten minutes of Tomb Raider is painfully slow, but do add context. As we see Laura’s unwieldy physical traits, speed, agility, and athleticism, while getting her ass handed to her in a kickboxing match. It’s a key sign that this Laura isn’t fully formed, at least not like Angelina Jolie’s. That is, she’s not the female version of Bruce Wayne just yet.
The major draw for Tomb Raider is its chase sequences. The first being “the fox” hunt, as bike riders track her through the streets of London. The sequence doesn’t serve a purpose, other than to get Laura in enough trouble to warrant the help of Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), an associate of her father who wants Laura to take over the family business. But it is well edited, and snaps the audience out of the mournful doldrums of the first few minutes.
I’m going to sound like a broken record, but Tomb Raider isn’t looking for anything deeper than well-edited sequences. In fact, it’s willing to supplant character development of periphery characters at any possible moment. Which isn’t bad, if the action sequences are good, and they are.
Nevertheless, much like Sam Flynn, Laura Croft also goes on a pilgrimage to investigate her father’s fate. Along the way, she tracks down a drunken boat captain, Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), to take her to her father’s last known whereabouts: a random island that everyone knows about, but no one knows about.
I actually thought Vikander and Wu had good chemistry, I just wished they had more screen time together. At best, they might share the same screen for 30 of the near 120-minute long film. And for the most part, Wu’s backstory (what little there was) is done away with within 5 minutes of meeting Laura.
Speaking of backstory, there’s also the villain: Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). In the background of Croft searching for her father, there’s also the pursuit of Himiko: a death machine that Vogel is seeking on behalf of “Trinity.” What’s Trinity? No one knows. But they’re everywhere.
Alternatively, the only motive we’re given for Vogel is that he can’t go home to his daughters until he finds Himiko. We have no idea how he ended up on an island surrounded by craggy rocks or how he may know Richard Croft. He’s just a purely evil character driven by circumstance in the Lord Jim mold.
But like I said, if you’re coming to Tomb Raider, you’re not coming for the common sense. You’re coming for the sequences. Luckily, Vikander kills in every segment she’s in.
I really valued the clear physical training that she put into the role. I think it showed on screen and made for better sequences. As the whole film looks to be less dependent on wiring for stunts than the previous Tomb Raiders. One such sequence, is the ending (though heavily CGI’ed), as Vikander has to run through multiple obstacles as a temple crumbles around her. The whole 6-minute turn feels like the introduction to Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Vikander’s Laura is less dependent on flashy James Bond-like toys than her previous incarnation. Much like Indiana Jones, she utilizes “nitty-gritty” research, a trait that was demonstrated with Jolie and quickly discarded in exchange for flash instead of substance.
But most all, I was happy than Vikander’s Laura wasn’t reduced to a sex symbol or seductress. Other than some good nature ribbing between her and Wu, there’s never a steamy Daniel Craig/Jolie moment.
It’s another progression, ironically, from the James Bond territory. Instead, we’re left to judge Laura as she uses her ingenuity, guts, and training to get through obstacles. I think it’s the one chance that’s taken in the film, which it’s sad to say that presenting a strong female lead with little hint of sexual attraction is a “risk.”
And while Tomb Raider‘s ambitions aren’t lofty, and it doesn’t have a core message (it’s simply here for the purposes of entertainment. And that’s fine, especially when it’s done well), but it’s startlingly that my main comps. for it are both male-driven action heroes.
Hopefully soon, I’ll be saying ______ is more Tomb Raider than Atomic Blonde (both fine films).
Photo Credit: Geek Review