It has been a while since a filmic Lara Croft has graced our screens with the sex appeal of archaeology (my top guess at a phrase that could trigger an aneurysm). Now, however, Square Enix takes Lara back to her roots with Tomb Raider – the reboot. Pretty much like the Rise of the Tomb Raider did in the realm of the video game franchise. And with a new Tomb Raider game already teased, Square Enix + Crystal Dynamics is gearing up to eclipse the adventure game franchise to new heights.
Alicia Vikander as the prolific Lara Croft has achieved much fanfare and doubt alike, but no that the film is out, how does the Tomb Raider fair? Revamped for a new generation or befalling the nature of the video game movie?
The Lara Croft story begins with the rehashing of a Japanese tale steeped in the stuff of Legend and fable. The Death Queen. A woman portrayed as a monster who killed men by the simplest of touches. Immediately I thought that it was symbolic of some kind of biochemical weapon. Surely. But I guess the ‘healthy carrier’ component made a few rungs short of a dead giveaway. And how what’s the incubation period for that disease. 10 seconds?! But there we go, skipping to the end. Anywho, because of this woman’s “infectious” personality, she gets entombed alive along with all her 100 maidens and the damned souls that she infected, forever locked away behind puzzles, Indiana-Jones-esque traps, spikes and feats forever forgotten by the rest of the modern world. But, as one would expect, this kind of scenario is the exact description of a Lara-Croft wet dream.
But it’s her father’s voice that narrates this story. And being an origin story for Lara, we come to see the life of Lara before she goes raiding and pillaging peoples’ sacred resting place. In London, of course. Killmonger gets it.
Lara Croft, though post-Tomb Raider, has quite the active lifestyle, particularly in mixed martial arts, mixed with the old-school snobbery of activities like archery, all compressed in a Shoreditch-esque, cash-poor courier, who lives in the shadow of her presumed late father Richard Croft. Richard Croft seemed to be quite the adventurer himself, having disappeared years now during his quest for the Death Queen. Dad’s gone, his legacy is now his daughter’s as soon as she accepts and honours the contents of his will. And finding an enigma within a Chinese puzzle, she is led down a rabbit hole that leads her to the latest project her father was working on. But instead of destroying the research which a video will of her father requested, she decides to take up herself halfway across the world in search of the last whereabouts of her father. Teaming up with Lu Ren, the son of Richard Croft’s chaperone in his search of the Death Queen, Lara begins the same journey her father did.
Too bad the destination has a few hiccoughs along the way. You know, being shipwrecked on an island that only exists on ancient maps. And some mild slavery all headed by the nefarious group known as Trinity (cue X-Files music). And things become quite apparent that the sense of destiny and human arrogance is something that is congenital to the Croft bloodline. Because now its a race against time and fatality as uncovering the location and the secrets of the Death Queen’s tomb may be the key to save her life, and all that she holds dear.
London. So much to be said about this sardine-can city. And I can tell you Shoreditch is a place that creates wonders and also incites one to puke in their mouth. Just a little. Think Bushwick NY people. Or anywhere else in the world named Soho. Gentrification-turn-hip. And as I am writing this, I don’t want you to take this as a criticism of the film. Just a pet peeve. There are other places in London, people. But this is the playground of the young Lara. She’s a bicycle courier, kickboxes without paying her gym membership, draws the eyes of Asian guys… hell, maybe Shoreditch is the only place that Lara could exist.
Tomb Raider this time around presented Lara as the action figure to be reckoned with. There seemed to be a real focus on stunts and the physicality of the action. Unbelievable feats that didn’t seem to be performed with any painfully-obvious safety nets and CGI wizardry. And trust us it shows much to the benefit of the narrative. Impacts felt like impacts. That sense of weightlessness before hitting the ground hard. The running and jumping. All felt organic. And that was refreshing amongst the CGI, cable-assisted wizardry. No wonder they teamed up with Lucozade for their promotion. This presented Lara more in the vein of an extreme sports enthusiast which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because as her skills develop, we may be able to see a more parkour-esque explosion of activity which she will need to travel the rugged terrain.
Alicia has to be commended for this.
There is one little thing though. Bow and arrow gunning. Not the act. Just the methodology Alicia uses. Watched a documentary on the history of warfare that showed archers were on the constant movement in the battlefield (plus for Tomb Raider). But the idea of a quiver housing arrows would make little sense in this constantly moving arena. As such, they would carry arrows with them in hand. It made for better stealth too. And, of course, the idea of taking arrows out of corpses and reusing them was common practice. The quiver only became a thing when archery took the more stationary, modern archery target form. It would have been a nice dichotomy to see this posh, well-groomed daughter of high-brow beginnings find eerily natural footing amidst the intense bellowing call of survival. All of that to say this is not a criticism per say, but it’s usually small details like that that give a character and narrative a memorable edge.
We also enjoyed the ruthless Trinity agent portrayed by Walton Goggins – Mathias Vogel. He just wanted to finish his job so he could get of the island and go home. You can’t help but sympathise with that blue-collar ethic.
This Lara isn’t the overly-sexy bombshell, and that’s okay. More than okay. It was one of the reasons we were looking towards the film. Something more narrative-driven. No offence, Angelina Jolie. So a younger Lara who’s not afraid to get to the nit-and-grit of things is a good thing. There is, however, a downside to all this, of course. The sense of otherworldly confidence gets lost in the hyper-realism of stunts where your running for your life and that fear and adrenaline is starkly evident. The narrative gets away with it this time as Lara is still in a place of self-discovery and finding your father has been alive marrooned on an island all this time can have a detrimental effect on a girl. I think any further iterations will have to find a balance between the Lara of old and the Lara of new.
There are scenes that pointed to a lot of puzzles and the solving of them, which I personally felt was better accomplished in an Uncharted gameplay trailer than the actual Tomb Raider film. There wasn’t a puzzle that stayed constant throughout the film that led to some big reveal at the end. Every puzzle was solved pretty much there and then. Be it under duress or not. The feeling of at least one conundrum taking some mind-noodling to uncover its secrets would have helped with pacing and overall structure for the film. I mean, we can’t get everything handed to us instantaneouly.
This has to be one of the more glaring issues with the Tomb Raider movie. The beginning and endings sequences of the film could have either been trimmed of some of the fat, or made less to look like a ‘twist’ and ‘wink-wink’ that would be more suitable for a cheesy season finale of a TV series.
The point of meeting Lara in her Shoreditch environment to her meeting her step-mother to deal with the business of Richard Croft’s will is way too long in my opinion. Not to mention – hark – the stepmom is evil all along – she is Trinity!
And can we also talk about the corny two pistol double fisted moment in the post-credits? Yeah, its Lara’s quintessential look. But in London? Doubt you could get beauts like that out here. Even if it were illegal. A tad bit unnecessary.
Now Lara Croft. An iteration that falls in line with the current gaming direction has to be commended. The action and physicality of the film was something that I did enjoy. It could in part have something to do with seeing it in a 4DX cinema. But that is neither here nor there. as a narrative though, Tomb Raider doesn’t hit any extreme notes for me. The beginning and ending hit a little soft, which always feels like a discernable instance where you can almost see the execs enter the writing room pushing for all hands to point to a sequel. So sadly the video game movie curse is still in effect. That is not to say Tomb Raider didn’t give a good maze run for it. The physicality was new and welcomed, the story, however, is Explorer Adventurer film genre fodder.