Review: Tomb Raider fails to live up to Vikendar’s strong performance

The 2018 reboot of the Tomb Raider film franchise is a serviceable action film with an occasional flash of Indiana Jones inspired adventure, but falls short of the tight, well paced sequencing that made the Spielberg predecessors classics. This is unfortunate because Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl, Ex Machina, Jason Bourne) turns in a worthy performance as a rising action hero in the role of Lara Croft. The movie is a reboot of the 2001 and 2003 films that launched Angelina Jolie into the A-list of bankable movie stars.

In this version, the twenty something Croft is making her way in the rough edges of central London as a bicycle courier and training, unsuccessfully, in a kickboxing gym. Several years earlier, her archaeologist and businessman father Lord Richard Croft (Dominic WestJohn Carter, Money Monster, The Square) disappeared on a quest to find the tomb of Himiko, the mythical Japanese Queen of Yamatai, who possessed dark powers to kill. When Lara is coaxed back to executive suite of Croft Holdings to sign legal papers declaring him dead, she discovers a message in a hidden research room of their family mansion instructing her to destroy his work in order to keep it out of the hands of the shadowy organization Trinity. Instead, Lara uses her father’s research to launch her search for him.

Lara solves riddles and puzzles from clues her father left in his research, leading her to Hong Kong and the son of a the fisherman (played by American born Hong Kong movie star Daniel Wu) who transported Lord Richard to the island where he believed he would find Himiko. After a storm shipwrecks her on the island of Yamatai, she finds rival archaeologist Mathias Vogel (Walter Goggins, The Accountant, The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained) using a slave army of other shipwrecked fisherman, including  her Hong Kong boat captain Lu Ren, to find Himiko’s tomb. She also finds her father alive. When Vogel threatens to kill Richard unless he solves a puzzle leading to the tomb, Lara relents to save her father’s life and leads him to the queen’s sarcophagus. The story has an interesting and intriguing twist as Lara discovers the true meaning of the riddle to Himiko’s interment, but Vogel is too focused on retrieving her remains he fatefully ignores Lara’s warnings.

The story itself is straightforward, never leaving the end in doubt, although the actors provide a solid yoeman’s turn in breathing life into their characters. The movie has several action elements that keep the audience engaged, including a bicycle chase through London’s narrow and winding streets, another chase across the makeshift docks and fishing boats tied up in Hong Kong’s Aberdeen District (the south side of  Hong Kong Island), a ferocious storm that rips Lu Ren’s boat apart, and the inevitable and deadly centuries old traps set to kill those trying to pillage Himiko’s tomb.

The sequences, however, are not tied together well. In many cases, the action seems gratuitous and disconnected from the story. For example, Lara’s interest in martial arts and kick boxing is never explained: Is this an outlet for her anger at her father’s abandonment? An attempt to develop street fighting skills? Similarly the bicycle chase scene seems little more than an ego trip for Lara to prove her recklessness to her mostly male two-wheeling peers (and as a plot device to get her to sign the legal papers officially recognizing her father’s death). Moreover, her supposed fighting skills do little to help her when she is confronted with three youthful thugs in Hong Kong when one of them pulls a knife on her in an attempt to steal her belongings. While knives are lethal weapons, a trained martial artist of Lara’s skill and drive would have had lots of options for defending herself. Instead, she turns and runs, instigating another chase that leads her to Lu Ren’s boat.

In another odd turn, Daniel Wu’s portrayal of Lu Ren, Lara’s partner in the search for her father, falters when he is introduced as captain of his fishing boat in Hong Kong. The screenplay never explains how or why this critical character, presumably raised in the South China fishing culture, has developed a fluent American accent without a hint of Cantonese dialect. (The answer is pretty straightforward: Wu, American by birth and upbringing, can’t speak Cantonese although he has appeared in dozens of Chinese films, lives in Hong Kong, and is an accomplished martial artist.)

Despite all these shortcoming, Tomb Raider provides enough action a genre enthusiast should come away from the theater satisfied although not necessarily enthralled with the experience. Since its opening, the movie has grossed more than $200 million, largely based on its success in China and Asia (a primary market for the film). Given these numbers, a second movie in the rebooted franchise is likely.

Using my rubric, Tomb Raider scored a C+.

Rotten Tomatoes reviews can be found here.

Metacritic reviews and score can be found here.

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