Alicia Vikander Unearths Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft

Somehow the original Tomb Raider movie managed to be terrible despite stone monkey guardians. I’m still angry they were dispatched so easily! (The Cradle Of Life was better.) While it could’ve used some stone monkeys, the new Tomb Raider movie is legitimutantly good! It’s just not as gonzo as Chronicles of The Ghostly Tribe. This is an opinion I have as a person only peripherally aware of Lara Croft’s legendary exploits. Below I unearth a review with … not much in the way of spoilers. How’d I manage that?

Following in the tradition of Angelina Jolie, another Oscar winning foreigner with a disguise accent was cast as the English protagonist. Sweden’s Alicia Vikander, Oscar winner for Ex Machina, as Lara Croft is worth the price of admission.

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Lara Croft is a cool name, but I would’ve gone with Thomasina Brader for nominative determinism if I had my druthers.

If gender parity in action flicks wasn’t so rare, I wouldn’t need to point out how spectacular Alicia Vikander’s physical transformation is. Even though there’s still stuntwomen & special effects involved in the stunts, I completely bought that only Lara was involved because Vikander has the right physique for them. She’s a great example of female characters needing visible muscle tone even if they don’t have superstrength. (When playing a superhumanly strong character, hit the gym at least twice as hard.) I wish Vikander would remain as ripped for all her roles regardless of their requirements. (Alas, she doesn’t.)

The action is very well directed by Roar Uthaug. (Roar may be a typical Norse name, but it still makes me mirthful.) You can follow what’s happening! It looks thrilling but not too flamboyant that it breaks disbelief suspension. That leaves room to expand the spectacle in future installments as she levels up experience. Although emphatically not invulnerable, Lara is more resilient than a real person would be in such dire conditions. Watching her shoot arrows into nameless mercs is cathartic.

This movie is inspired more by the recent reboot video games. As someone who didn’t play any of her games, I thought giving her an official origin story was unnecessary. (Those who have insist that they’re actually very good!) I just presumed she used her wealth to train for being a grave robber in adverse conditions because she had an aptitude for archaeology & violence. It’s not like we needed Indiana Jones’s full backstory, but that didn’t stop them from making The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles either. I thought it was cynical that the reboot made Lara an archer just like Katniss Everdeen whilst fighting for survival on a mysterious island like Oliver Queen.

This movie Lara doesn’t even use her family fortune to fund her expedition, presumably because rich people are harder to make sympathetic. She won’t sign for her inheritance because she refuses to believe her dad died. It turns out she’s right, but it’s still an infuriating choice to anyone in the audience that could really use millions of pounds sterling. She makes too big a deal of being self reliant. (Her stubbornness & impetuousness are character flaws that spur much of the story.) To justify her superhuman athleticism, we see her kickboxing & working as a daredevil bike courier. Typically male action stars skip this bit by saying they’re ex-military, but watching Lara be active prior to her adventure is surprisingly not perfunctory. The first tomb she raids is technically her father’s. It does feel egregious that she doesn’t have a university degree in archaeology though.

Everything in this is stripped down movie besides Lara. (Emily Carey has played both young Wonder Woman & Lara Croft! That’s already an impeccable resume.) The other characters in the are essentially glorified cameos. They may be underwritten, but they’re an interesting cast giving solid performances. Contrariwise, I wanted to prematurely entomb Jon Voight, Iain Glen, & Daniel Craig after the first Tomb Raider.

The plot is standard. It’s like all the Lian Yu flashbacks from (Green) Arrow condensed. What it lacks in novelty it makes up for in execution. This is a B-movie made with A-movie production values. (A- & B-movies don’t technically exist anymore, but you get the picture.) It delivers on all the promises it made in the trailers.

This is a perfectly enjoyable film even if you’re not a gamer, although you may like it less if you are. There’s not enough pivotal women compared to the 2013 game. Apparently it’s missing a giant zombie samurai too. I would’ve liked both, but I didn’t necessarily miss them since I lacked expectations from hours of immersive gameplay. (I did read some of the Top Cow comics featuring a completely different continuity.) While I don’t doubt Rhianna Pratchett wrote a video game with more personality, this still feels like a better adaptation than most of the Resident Evil films or anything Uwe Boll did besides Postal.

In the wrong hands, this could’ve easily been Colonialism: The Movie. The negative aspects of tomb raiding are wisely relegated to the sinister magic artifact collecting cabal blandly called Trinity. They couldn’t find a giant tomb on a single island for seven years, so they may be bad at this. There’s a sting in the tail about them, but I deduced it in advance. I leave you to puzzle it out for yourself since the film is so straightforward.

There’s nice bit about subverting legends, but Empress Himiko is definitely magic. They imply her death touch is a biological weapon that’s still instantly potent after centuries of mummification, but that’s not how diseases work. (Why does her tomb have off switches for booby traps?) Lara herself is made of coincidence magic that activates the plot plus a durability enchantment that only lets her be noticeably injured once. Hopefully the sequels will have even more overt supernatural elements so we needn’t debate this. There’s plenty of bizarre adversaries to choose from!

Although I don’t think Lara Croft requires an origin story, this one was told well. At the end there is a suggestion that she will become more iconic gun-toting adventurer … providing this one is profitable enough for another. They’ve already built a great Lara Croft, so there’s no need to start all over from scratch again. Sequels could easily add in more characterization for the supporting cast, more women, more set pieces, & more magic. Or it could just be about her finally getting her university degree. Cinema needs more inspirational education propaganda!

Even though it’s easy to cosplay, film adaptations seem opposed to featuring Lara’s signature wardrobe. I understand that the shorts aren’t ideal for most situations, but they don’t use the rest of it (John Lennon sunglasses, fingerless biker gloves, & bright turquoise tank top) that’s perfectly good either. (I know she’s got a variety of outfits tailored to different locales, but part of me wishes her closet was filled with only her official tomb raiding costume. Then she insists people only address her as The Tomb Raider.) If they deign to give her a tank top it’s either black, white, or very desaturated blue. I never considered seeing it in live action would prove as difficult as Wolverine’s costume. Surely Dr. Christmas Jones isn’t the best we can expect?

Unlike the Playmates, SOTA, & NECA action figures made for the earlier films & games, the only toy available for this installment is a lone Barbie. It looks vaguely like Vikander? It’s definitely not buff enough. Where’s her bow & arrows? I’d rather wait for the eventual Hot Toys edition, then complain I can’t afford it.

The movie gets lots of stuff right. Vikander’s Lara is a charismatic lead. She’s inexperienced & flawed to balance her hypercompetence. There’s no rape or torture. Carnage levels are appropriate. Lara isn’t gratuitously sexualized. The Asians aren’t caricatures. There’s no tacked on romance. The guys aren’t sexist straw men. The stakes are concrete enough that there’s tension without being too ludicrous to wrap your head around them. The narrative doesn’t mistake confusing for complex. There’s a set-up for more movies, but this works fine as a standalone. It passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test because that’s a really low bar. It’s got shortcomings, but none utterly sour it. The movie doesn’t innovate, but it does everything else well. It could be better, but I say that about most movies anyway.

The reviewer narrative for this film seems to be that it’s fine yet not as stupendous as the the reigning Box Office King, which somehow makes it bad? For years reviewers have claimed that video game films are utter dross (I anti-concur), but now that there’s a solid entrant in this category they move the goal posts? Society really needs to reevaluate its dialectic Sturgeon’s Law schema of culture. There is a spectrum of quality! Unfortunately not everything can be outstanding, but that doesn’t make the rest worthless. Did anyone honestly expect this movie to be so amazing it shatters all preconceived notions of life? Some reviews even criticize it for not being an interesting failure, which grossly overestimates the odds of a otherwise lousy movie transcending into an intriguingly rewatchable one. Why can’t people just be happy that there’s an objectively good female-led video game film? It’s certainly not perfect, but standards seem to be disproportionately high for this action flick.

I’ll probably review Pacific Rim Uprising next because I like big robots hitting kaiju!

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