“Tomb Raider”: a Worthy Adventure Starring a Great Hero

Though a Tomb Raider reboot wasn’t something that I would have pegged as a likely success, this little action-adventure film starring Alicia Vikander does far more right than it does wrong. Trailers would suggest that this is your generic, action-packed, thrill-a-minute blockbuster, but it is actually far more subtle and considerate than that. The primary draw is definitely Vikander and her portrayal of Lara Croft, a character that director Roar Uthaug develops in interesting ways and who enjoys a complete arc over the course of all of this tomb raiding (which is quite entertaining and well thought out). It’s also a movie that knows that it is important to have a bit of fun now and then, though it certainly isn’t goofy. The film is far from perfect; the action is a little frenetic and full of cuts, and most of the plot beats predictable and by-the-numbers. But, for the most part, Tomb Raider is an enjoyable little adventure.

The plot of Tomb Raider is pretty predictable. It’s essentially a hero’s journey featuring Lara Croft in the hero role. We begin by establishing her character: she’s a bit wayward, but frightfully clever and capable. Still, at the onset of the story she fails far more than she succeeds. Eventually, she pieces some clues together, solves a few puzzles, and answers a call-to-adventure to an island where she thinks she might get some answers about her father’s fate. This being a Tomb Raider story, there’s definitely going to be tombs, ancient legends, and conspiratorial conglomerates for Lara to fight against.

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What?  A video camera with a Post-It Note that reads “Play Me” counts as a clue.

Tomb Raider does a lot well in this stage. Lara gets some strong characterization in non-obvious and interesting ways. She’s first shown sparring with a fellow kickboxer and losing, then participating in a kind of bike chase (as the quarry, obviously). Her strengths and weaknesses are well-developed, setting the stage for and impressive and complete arc. Now, Tomb Raider is a little by-the-books plot-wise; it’s certainly not going to surprise too many people, although I felt that the ultimate reveal of the climax is quite clever and cool, so it is not 100% predictable.

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This is mad Lara.  She’s kind of a bad kickboxer.  No bonus points for predicting that, later in the film, she will learn from this.

The trailers that I saw made Tomb Raider out to be one of those thrill-a-minute kind of action films. It is not that, though I understand why it was pitched that way (tl;dr – people like stupid action movies). There are only a handful of legitimate action sequences in the film – there’s a few fights, an escape and some chases, and all that tomb raiding in the third act. The chases are done pretty well, they don’t go on too long, and they are fairly easy to understand geographically, though they do rely on a lot of unneccesary cuts. The actual fighting and action sequences lean a little too much on cuts too, lending these sequences a jumpy, disconnected kind of feel. I’d have preferred a more in-camera approach to action in this film, but for whatever reason the director, cinematographer, or editor (or Hollysuits, it’s tough to say) has decided to lean into heavy cutting for the most part.

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Here’s a good chase scene, through a Hong Kong wharf or something.

There’s also not a very distinctive look to the film. There’s a pretty generic action/blockbuster cinematography at play here, without a lot of note. The jungles are a bit oppressive, the tombs dark, the action unremarkable (and, sometimes, peppered with meh CGI), and that sort of thing. The look of this film definitely heightens the overall feeling of blandness that the plot has set up. It isn’t terrible or off-putting, it’s simply unremarkable.

But Lara Croft certainly is.

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This is a much harder puzzle than searching for the “Play” button.

Without a doubt, the major draw of Tomb Raider is Alicia Vikander’s portrayal of Croft. We’ve already discussed that the character is established very well, and a lot of that work is done by Vikander. She’s great and conveying the sense of loss she feels, the desire to stand on her own two feet and be her own woman, and ultimately the bravery to set sail for a mysterious island that probably doesn’t even exist. Lara’s arc is impressive and wholly satisfying, and if you’re in the market for relatable, heroic female characters, you won’t find many better examples this side of Wonder Woman (or, Annihilation, but that’s not really a movie for kids).

In the end, Tomb Raider is a bit of a mixed bag, but most of the the things in that bag are at least solid. There aren’t really any full-on failures here, but instead a few bits of excellence, a few bits of risk-aversion, and a couple poor choices. The story is a little predictable and the action kind of haphazard, but the chase scenes and temple stuff are both pretty great. Vikander’s performance as Lara Croft is incredibly enjoyable. Overall, it’s a pretty fun movie that is much better than it has any right to be. Hopefully, we’ll see Lara raid some more tombs in the future.

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