New in Theaters: Tomb Raider

Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

There is a great action sequence in the new Tomb Raider movie that feels like the video games come to life more than any in the previous adaptations.  Our hero, Lara Croft, races through the woods amid a storm of gunshots, ends up falling into a rushing river heading towards a waterfall, saves herself by hooking a piece of a rusty crashed plane with the rope binding her hands, has to race along the wing of the plane before it crashes into the depths below, and then finally avoids death by grasping a decrepit, barely functional parachute.  She ends up on the beach below and the camera pulls back to reveal her to be a small figure stranded on a giant island.  This felt like the perfect time for the title of the movie to take over the frame and for the movie to push forward with its story from there.  The only problem with this is that the sequence comes about forty-five minutes into the movie and is the middle of the adventure, not the beginning.

After a brief voiceover introduction by her father, the movie introduces us to Lara in London working on her fighting moves at a local gym.  We learn that Lara’s father disappeared seven years prior and that she is working as a bike courier because she has refused to sign the papers that would declare him legally deceased, allowing her to inherit the family fortune.  When she is finally compelled into the lawyer’s office by her guardian, Lara finds that her father has left her a mysterious puzzle hiding a strange clue. What the clue leads her to is her father’s secret life as an adventurer who has spent his life searching for the long lost tomb of an ancient Japanese queen said to command a power that could destroy all life on Earth.

Lara picks up her father’s trail and heads to Hong Kong, where she hopes to find the captain of the ship that her father was chartering to take him to an island few believe exists.  She finds the next best thing, the captain’s drunken son, and her journey begins.  From here the plot pretty much takes the shape of the exceptional 2013 video game reboot as Lara becomes shipwrecked on the island where she will find herself in the clutches of a bunch of baddies hired by a mysterious corporation to find the queen’s tomb.  And finally, over an hour into the movie, we are ready to raid tombs.

What I appreciated about the movie was that it did not pretend to be something it was not.  The movie openly embraces its video game roots and has Lara doing stunts straight out of the games.  In addition to the action sequence referred to earlier, Lara also must jungle gym her way along the exposed metal railings of a sinking ship and leap across chasms using a pickaxe to catch the opposing cliff face. That pickaxe and the bow and arrow she uses in the film also feel like they are found the same way you would find helpful items in the video game.

This reliance on adapting video game mechanics to a feature film has its setbacks, though.  For instance, the movie has Lara work multiple physical puzzles to find clues or to enter rooms, but no real explanation is ever really given to how these puzzles are solved or how they work.  The most egregious example of this is the large puzzle Lara must navigate to open the entrance to the tomb.  There are large discs embedded into a cliff face and Lara goes from one to the other spinning them slightly until finally the cliff face crashes away.  There is no explanation for how this puzzle works or how Lara figures it out, nor is there much trial and error; it just works.

The filmmakers are clearly inspired not only by the video games, but by the Indiana Jones movies, in particular Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Like that film, this one contains a father/child dynamic and even borrows the “good thing I sent you my diary” moment.  This movie also seems early on to be setting up the three trials conceit Crusade used in its third act, but Tomb Raider then fails to deliver the goods on that front… and once we get to the last act, only one of those trials is actually paid off.

The action scene mentioned above is exceptional, but the rest of the movie’s action set pieces mostly fail to deliver.  There is a bicycle chase scene near the beginning that is fun if you can avoid thinking of how much danger they are putting innocent civilians in, but a later action scene in Hong Kong just feels like a waste of time.  And once the movie does finally get to the island, much of the action there is marred by mostly just cutting back and forth between nameless men firing guns, which is about as bland of action as you can get.

Although there are a lot of things that this movie doesn’t get right, the casting of its hero is not one of those things.  Alicia Vikander is an excellent fit for Lara Croft and she brings a solid level of toughness and determination to the role.  We believe her as someone who is not going to give up no matter how tough it gets and that is important, because it gets tough for Lara to the point that our disbelief has to be suspending and her performance helps make that easier to do.  Even though I wasn’t as enamored with the movie as I hoped I would be, I do hope that it is successful enough that they make another film with Vikander as Lara Croft, because I would really like to see what she could do with the character in a more complete film.

Tomb Raider did well to adapt its cinematic reboot from the successful video game reboot, but it would have been nice had the filmmakers adapted more of the approximately ten hours of game time spent on the island rather than invest so much of its running time to the setup.  It is a serviceable action movie with an excellent lead and has some great action beats mixed in, but on the whole, it underwhelms.

Tomb Raider is now playing at the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s The Landing 14.


Find tickets and showtimes on Fandango.