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Movie Review: Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider punches above its weight and is more fun for it
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Tomb Raider
Directed by Roar Uthaug
In Theatres

But first, a digression. Video game adaptations don't have the best reputation. Of course, that is like saying "water is wet". Video game adaptations tend to attract directors like Uwe Boll and actors looking to pay for a new pool. Video game adaptations tend to be regarded as highly as their counter in the video game world, the movie tie-in. There are outliers, of course, like any generalization. It's not all House of the Dead or Super Mario Bros. Or Assassin's Creed. Oh, Assassin's Creed. That thing just barely qualifies as a movie. The amount of wasted talent on screen must have set some kind of record. My hate of the Assassin's Creed film could fuel a small star. Two hours I will never, ever get back. Give me a time machine and after I kill Hitler, I'm going to make sure that movie is never made. Michael Fassbender could make some money marketing Assassin's Creed gave me PTSD t-shirts. Anyway. Like I was saying there are outliers. 

Silent Hill is creepy and fun and Pyramid Head is the stuff of nightmares and Sean Bean doesn't die. And the story doesn't even attempt to answer any question it sets up. Hitman's greatest asset is its star, Timothy Olyphant. Never dialling down his natural charisma, playing 47 as some kind of killing machine and child. The Resident Evil series, though uneven, is generally good zombie killing fun. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time has some issues but is rarely boring. The trailers for Rampage are promising a fun time, hopefully they can cash that cheque. 

Which sort of brings us to the two Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider films from the early days of this century. The films are kinda m'eh, like Ms Jolie's British accent. Not as bad as Daniel Craig's American accent, but still, not really a good time. They got bogged down with convoluted plots, like some kind of low rent James Bond knock off instead of the Indiana Jones knock off the games were going for. Except for the accent, none of the films' problems are Ms Jolie's fault. She was incredibly watchable, an unexpected action hero. Charismatic, full of energy, never self-conscious about the various ridiculous journeys the stories took her character on. Despite being handicapped with costumes that made her breasts 80s porn star size and a lingering camera that is just bordering on harassment, Ms Jolie's Lara Croft is never not the toughest person in the room, is never not the centre that somehow holds the films together. And after that string of double negatives, let's get to the new Tomb Raider.

Like the best of any genre film, Tomb Raider punches above its weight. It aspires to be more than a video game adaptation, it wants to be an action film. And it succeeds. Bouncing bobblehead Boba Fett, does it succeed. And like the best action film, most of the success rests on the shoulders of its star, Alicia Vikander. Like her predecessor, Ms Vikander comes to the Lara Croft role with a very Serious Actor reputation. And also like Ms Jolie she comes to the role a recent Oscar winner. And that's where the similarities end. Where the earlier Tomb Raider films take place in a universe where Lara Croft has been raiding tombs for a while, the new film is more of an origin story. Where Ms Jolie played the role with an almost superhuman confidence, Ms Vikander's Lara Croft is unsure, makes mistakes, underestimates, has to fight for her life.

Tomb Raider, the new one, begins with a Lara Croft scrambling to make money, unwilling to declare her father dead even though he's been missing for seven years. Stuff happens and I'm not going to spoil anything. Alicia Vikander is amazing. Most actors do this scrunched up face thing when they're acting thinking. Ms Vikander, it's all in the eyes. There's a subtlety there, something special. When handed a puzzle, we see the joy she gets from working on riddles, on puzzles. We see the euphoria when she solves the problem. But it's all so subtle. Other action stars could learn a couple of things watching her performance. And then there's the action. Oh, my, the action. Every fight, every jump, every kick and scramble and climb and jump is a thing to behold. Ms Vikander is like everything any fan of action wants in their action star. Her and her stunt team deserve all of the recognition. 

Tomb Raider isn't perfect. I wish that Walton Goggins was given more to do. I mean, he has plenty to do and he sells his character's madness perfectly, it's just that, well, it's Walton Goggins. I'd watch Walton Goggins read a phone book for two hours and still complain there wasn't enough Walton Goggins. But the film honestly leaves Daniel Wu with little to do. The man just needs a chance to prove that the fans of Into the Badlands are right about him. And you can't have Nick Frost and Derek Jacobi in your film and only give them a handful of lines. I'm sure it's a crime in some jurisdictions. 

But it's those moments, when amazing actors have essentially cameos, that hint at what may be to come if this becomes a franchise. I just hope that if Tomb Raider: More Raiding happens, Nick Frost's Max and Derek Jacobi's Mr. Yaffe are more than peripheral characters. There are other moments and characters that also hint at what may be to come in the future, but I'm an unapologetic Nick Frost fan and I want more Max. So, yeah. 

Anyway. I'm sure that fans of the video game series will have plenty to complain about. But from where I sit, Tomb Raider does exactly what it intended to do. It was made to be a blockbuster action film and that's exactly what it is. Using its star's understated directness pushes it from generic blockbuster action film to pretty damned good blockbuster action film. It's not great, it is kinda dumb, but it's a blockbuster action film. Looking for something subtler, something quieter? I recommend Ex Machina, a quiet, subtle genre film that also stars Alicia Vikander. But if you're looking for a popcorn and giant drink good time with lots of noise, check out Tomb Raider.




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