Saturday, March 17, 2018

Tomb Raider (2018): A Review (Review #1030)


I am not well-versed in the world of Lara Croft as I don't play video games.  I haven't played any since Donkey Kong.  I do, however, know a bit about Lara Croft, the heroine of many a Tomb Raider game. 

Despite my overall lack of knowledge, I can say that Tomb Raider, the new video game adaptation/franchise starter, is no Lara Croft and a gross disservice to its fans despite its star's most valiant efforts.

Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is eking out a living as a bicycle courier in London despite being an heiress. The only reason she's poor is because to get her fortune, she has to sign papers declaring her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), dead, and she has not given up hope.  The pang of poverty, along with an arrest for illegal bike racing, force her hand.

Just before she actually signs the papers in front of two of the Croft Holdings executives, Mr. Yaffe (Derek Jacobi) and Ana Miller (Kristen Scott Thomas), Lara takes a puzzle from Yaffe and solves it.  This leads to a secret chamber in the Croft family crypt, where Lord Richard urges her to burn all the research he's done on Himiko, a legendary Japanese Queen/Death Goddess.

Rather than burn all his work, she takes some of it to see if she can find Lord Richard, who disappeared searching for Himiko's tomb on an unknown island.

I pause to wonder, if her father is Lord Richard Croft, wouldn't that make her Lady Lara Croft?

She tracks down Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), whom she thinks sailed with her father to the unknown island.  In reality, it was Ren's father, who also disappeared.  He doesn't want to go, but money motivates him.

They find the island after a fierce storm, but are separated and Lara is captured by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), who claims to have killed Lord Richard and has been trapped on this island in his vain search for Himiko's Tomb.  Fortunately, Lara brought along Lord Richard's notes, so now he can find it and get off the island and return to his two little daughters.  He forces Lara into slave labor, where she finds Ren again, along with others who were smuggled onto the island to be slaves.

She escapes and eventually find her father, very much alive.  Lara and Richard try to stop Mathias from opening the tomb, since Lord Richard is convinced Himiko is no myth and will unleash death and destruction upon the world.  Mathias' motives are vague to say the least: at times he just wants Himiko's powers, at times he just wants to bring Himiko out so that he can escape the clutches of 'Trinity', a secret organization bent on world domination.

The Crofts, along with Mathias and his henchmen, go into the tomb, passing many dangers until Himiko is found.  It's a desperate race then to get out once The Wrath of Himiko is unleashed, and not everyone survives.

Surprisingly, Lara does, returns to London to sign the papers, and finds that Ana Miller may be involved in Trinity.  However, that is probably going to be explored in the sequel Tomb Raider is signaling.

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Wrong Ann Miller!

I guess I'm just one of those reviewers who gets hung up on details. When I remember Get Out, the only thing I took away from it was, 'why are there candles in the operating room?'.  I know why they are there: that's how Jordan Peele set up the fire to burn down the house.  I just thought it was wildly illogical to have candles in an operating room, but who am I to argue against an Oscar-winning comedic genius?

In Tomb Raider, one thing I became fixated on was the secret room in the Croft Family crypt.  If Gevena Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons' screenplay is to be believed, this secret room has not been visited in seven years.  However, when Lara walks in, this secret room, unknown and unseen for at least seven years, is surprisingly clean.  No cobwebs, no dust anywhere, all the electrical equipment in perfect working order, and even the desk drawers are easy to open.

I don't know why, but the fact that this secret room hidden behind a crypt was so spotless was something I simply could not get over.

I think it does indicate what a lousy, illogical story Tomb Raider was.  I don't think I have seen a lazier franchise-starter, one that not only was idiotic but predictable and contradictory.

As soon as I saw Lara in that 'fox hunt' where she was the fox chased by a group of fellow couriers, I was waiting for her to get distracted and crash into a car.

No surprise when that happened.

As soon as I saw three Asian youth 'helping' Lara find a particular ship in Hong Kong, with her bag slung very loosely, I was waiting for them to grab it and for her to give chase.

No surprise when that happened.

As soon as I heard Lu Ren talk about 'the Devil's Triangle' and how dangerous that spot in the Pacific Ocean was, I was waiting for a storm to keep them off the island.

No surprise when that happened.

Again and again, Tomb Raider kept making ghastly decision after ghastly decision.  It's already bad enough that things were predictable, but director Roar Uthaug made these and other moments clumsy. We got an introduction to the Legend of Himiko, only to have Lord Richard via video tell his daughter the exact same information we got less than half an hour earlier.  I just wonder why we couldn't have had Lord Richard tell us this and skipped the uninteresting intro.

Uthaug could also have cut all of Nick Frost's appearance as a sleazy pawnbroker, none of which was funny or necessary to the overall story.
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There are so many bad moments throughout Tomb Raider, so many illogical points that nothing could have cobbled it together into any sense of cohesion.  Mathias claimed to have killed Lord Richard, then when finding him, seems none-too-surprised.  Maybe he thought he killed Lu Ren's father, for he was most sincerely dead.  I guess in Tomb Raider, Asian Lives Don't Matter.

Despite the fact that Lu Ren appeared on the island at the same time Lara Croft did, Mathias and his henchmen apparently don't see a connection.

Mathias himself as a character was so needlessly contradictory.  The film wants us to find him a frightening, evil villain: he kills an old man in cold blood.  The film wants us to find him a sympathetic, conflicted character: we see a framed picture of his two small girls in his tent. We hear how 'Trinity' is keeping him on this island until he find Himiko's Tomb, but he also tortures and torments slaves.

I actually enjoyed a short film of my own imagination, where Lady Lara Croft finds Mathias' two young daughters and tells them, 'Well, your dad killed my dad, so I killed your dad.  We square?'

Given the ridiculously brief time Scott Thomas is in the film, why would we think she was some sort of Trinity Overlord when we don't know who she is or what Trinity actually relates to?  She's just there to set up a sequel, and despite my constant warnings to Never End Your Movie By Suggesting There Will Be A Sequel, people still are too lazy about including such things, believing that's all audiences want.

Perhaps the worst aspect of Tomb Raider is what the film did to the title character herself.  In the film, she comes across as less bad-ass genius and more an archaeological Mrs. Magoo, stumbling into success with no explanation.  In the beginning, we see her easily taken down in mixed martial arts, having to humiliatingly tap out.  By the end, she manages to overpower a whole group of armed men down to killing one of them in hand-to-hand combat.

She manages to solve elaborate, deathly puzzles in the most oddball way and translate pictographs and ancient Japanese texts despite never seeing any proof she has any actual education (in the film, she tells her dad she didn't go to University).

Bless Alicia Vikander, who gave it her all to make Lara interesting and believable.  She would make a good action star, but Tomb Raider is such a waste of her talents and skills.  No matter how hard she tried, I could never believe the character as written and presented, who was so dumb as to not pay attention when she was cycling and end up crashing into a police car, could have managed to survive a falling, rusted airplane hanging precariously over a water.

Granted, this set piece was not bad, but not enough to make anything here plausible, let alone interesting.

The Hong Kong sequence and Wu were here just to appeal to the Chinese market, down to having dialogue in Chinese to make it easier for the real target audience not to depend on voiceovers or subtitles.

West and Goggins were similarly wasted, and Scott Thomas and Jacobi just were there for the money.

Tomb Raider, the more I think on it, angers me.  It is such a waste of potential: potential for Vikander, potential for a great character.  The script needed a massive overhaul, and the performances save Vikander weren't worthy of the cast's abilities.  If it were not for her, I would have rated the film lower.

As it stands, I think I'm being far too generous as it is.


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