Tomb Raider (**) feels like an audition

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Tomb Raider – 2018

Director Roar Uthaug
Screenplay by Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons
Starring  Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas

There is something about Alicia Vikander’s Tomb Raider that feels like begging. Having never cared a whit about the video game, I made it about half way through the first Jolie take on the franchise, and skipped the second entirely. Even if she had the swagger, it wasn’t more than scenery chewing. This time around, within 15 minutes, Vikander’s Croft has gotten her ass kicked by another woman in kick boxing practice at the gym, then told that she needs to pay her gym fees or not come back. Next we see her try to win a bike race in London to get cash. Because she’s poor, you see. Down on her luck. And she just happens to be the daughter of a missing trillionaire, or something.

She won’t admit that though. Through some attempt at virtue, we’re supposed to believe she’s lived for years like a scrapper because, well, she’s a different kind of Croft. And because she doesn’t want to admit that dear old dad (West), who’s been missing for years on some Indiana Jones trip, is dead.

Alright, let’s cut the crap. She ends up on the same treasure hunt as her Dad was on, and if you can believe this, she ends up on some uncharted island right off of Japan. There she finds Walton Goggins, playing against type. He’s still the bad guy, like usual. Only this movie seems to have stripped any sense of personality from him.

Uthaug directed the intense and visceral Norwegian film The Wave in 2015. There is some of that intensity here, mostly in Vikander’s earnest attempts to perform every stunt as if her life depends on it. It’s amazing to me that one could have an actor of Goggin’s caliber and completely whitewash anything he would normally bring to a character. Perhaps the director is unfamiliar with anything he’s ever done?

Dominic West is uninteresting in any capacity here. He’s so bad, it makes me question if it is really him that I remember from The Wire. He makes the one good character from Jolie’s film (played by her father, Jon Voight) seem like Shakespeare in comparison. Instead, we get the impotence one usually expects from all video game father figures.

One character that might have been interesting is Wu’s Lu Ren, who is a hired hand that becomes a friend, a slave, and a leader of the rebellion. He spends much of the film drinking, then wincing, then flexing, then firing. The lines are flat, but he’s got an interesting face.

Vikander’s Croft is set back from the get go. They didn’t want to make her an asshole, like we see in the previous screen version. Instead what we get is tantamount to a very young and very fit puppy. She’s eager to please at all times, and only shows self-interest when pushed. Hers would be a likable character if it didn’t go counter to everything else we’ve experienced and the name TOMB RAIDER.

There is nothing wrong with this approach, I suppose. It just feels like we need to thank her for each attempt, successful or no. In the end, instead of the title implying strength and derring do, they might be more appropriately call the film, “Girl who very reluctantly goes into tomb to help keep people safe.”

The temple raiding is not all that interesting. Whatever isn’t computer animated is pretty tame, accompanied with banal phrases like “this was made to keep people from getting out.” This is an interesting phrase in the last quarter of the film. It’s less interesting when it was discussed twice already, including the intro.

It’s hard to say who this film is marketed towards. Croft is muscular and angular. There are almost no curves. Teenage boys who played the first game are old enough to have grand kids playing the game now. Not sure which of the generations need to feel pride in the accomplishments of a scrappy Croft who is not as sure of herself till just before the credits roll.

(** out of *****)

 

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