Tomb Raider is a competent retread of the modern rebooted game, but not much more

Tomb Raider (2018) – Film Review

Tomb Raider 2018 film poster

Tomb Raider 2018 film poster

Tomb Raider is a reboot of the popular long-running gaming franchise that spawned two Angelina Jolie fronted films – Lara Craft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Lara Croft: Cradle of Life (2003) which has picked up a new lead actor in Alicia Vikander.

The game franchise itself has been running since 1996 and was itself rebooted in 2013 with a reimagined origin story focusing on survival elements which changed Croft from a mix between an invincible Indiana Jones and James Bond figure to a more fallible, gritty, and younger explorer.

The 2018 reboot film, starring Vikander as Croft, borrows heavily from that 2013 game. There is a setting on Yamatai Island, which Croft is shipwrecked on, and she is in a race with a very shady organisation called Trinity to find the tomb of a Japanese queen called Himiko.

Before we get to the island, though, a lot of time is spent setting up Croft’s own retooled backstory. The loss of her father, who was seeking the island himself, and the film goes into detail showing us scenes which illustrate that Lara is very smart, tenacious and athletic as well as highly motivated to find her dad.

Rather than being a millionaire titled explorer, Vikander’s Croft has a more modest origin as a bicycle courier with competency in extreme sports, archery, and martial arts who doesn’t want to claim her rightful inheritance because that would mean signing off on the assumed death of her adventurous father.

Croft comes across a mysterious message which draws her into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of her father years earlier when she was barely a teenager.

She finds a willing travelling companion and sidekick in the shape of Daniel Wu’s Lu Ren – but he is little more than a named extra by the time of the third act as the film very much centres on Lara.

Tomb Raider is polished but slight and forgettable

All of this is expected for the genre but people come to watch films like Tomb Raider for the action although the youthful audience that the brand ought to attract may appreciate the call backs to the 2013 game but may be disappointed at a lack of originality.

If modern action adventures can’t be original these days, because many set pieces look more epic rendered from a games console, then they have to work hard with casting and script – not just plotting but dialogue too.

This is the difference between Tomb Raider and better received films like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) which has arguably higher star power casting and peppers some zingy dialogue into the fray with the result being a hugely popular return at the box office.

By way of comparison, the entire Tomb Raider film could be seen as a lower budget echo of Batman Begins, complete with a plot twist in the coda setting up a potential sequel – a commendable, if unambitious, but flawed effort.

The producers must have been aware of the so-called ‘curse of the video game movie adaptation’ in which no film with video game origins has gone on to be a commercial success (never mind critical success) – the most recent high profile example coming to mind being that of Duncan Jones’ Warcraft (2016) film.

Tomb Raider appears to have been sensible with its budget – the film has very little in the way of obviously costly set pieces –  instead working hard on the script to make Lara Croft a credible character within a script that remains a bit creaky despite some rewrites to suit a 2 hour movie.

Unfortunately, Vikander’s Croft appears to have been given far too much of a polish from scene to scene and the overall result is a little too clinical despite the work that’s gone into making Croft both feminine and tough, smart and resourceful, she’s also a little forgettable.

The supporting characters are paper thin – with a notable exception for Dominic West as Richard Croft, Lara’s father – and by the end of the film there’s a distinct feeling that you have just watched somebody playing chapter 1 of a Lara Croft game which has very few surprises and ends with a note about extra playable content coming soon.

Tomb Raider (12A; moderate violence, threat, injury detail; 118 minutes)

Director(s):  Roar Uthaug

Cast Includes: Alicia Vikander, Walton Goggins, Kristin Scott Thomas, Dominic West, Nick Frost, Daniel Wu, Hannah John-Kamen

Summary: TOMB RAIDER is a fantasy action adventure in which a woman embarks on a dangerous journey to the last known destination of her archaeologist father.

Rating: *** (A competent retread of the modern rebooted Tomb Raider game, but not much more)