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Monday, July 2, 2018

Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

* *

Director: Roar Uthaug
Starring: Alicia Vikander

File this one under "Movies You've Already Forgotten About, Even Though They Only Came Out A Few Months Ago," and with good reason. Tomb Raider is a forgettable adventure movie that forgets the key thing that tends to make adventure movies successful - it's not very much fun. This is a movie with a plot that centers on a giant tomb that is full of elaborate puzzles that need to be solved in order for the players to survive and it somehow manages to be mostly boring. It never had to be great, it never had to be groundbreaking, it didn't even need to stray too far from its video game origins, but it needed to be entertaining and, save for a moment or two scattered throughout, it fails. It is, at least, better than last year's tomb raiding movie The Mummy, but if you've seen The Mummy then you know that that's pretty faint praise.

Tomb Raider opens 7 years after the presumed death of Richard Croft (Dominic West), father of the film's hero, Lara (Alicia Vikander). Refusing to accept that her father is truly dead, Lara has declined collecting her inheritance, but upon being informed that her father's estate needs to be settled and his possessions will be sold off if Lara won't claim them, she finally agrees to sign the necessary papers and as part of collecting her inheritance, receives a puzzle that reveals a mysterious key. The key turns out to unlock her father's secret office (hidden under the family mausoleum), where Lara discovers the research that prompted her father's fatal journey. Though the message her father has left instructs her to destroy the research lest it fall into the wrong hands, Lara instead decides to use it to retrace his footsteps in the hope of finding him. She hires Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), a ship's captain, to take her to the island which her father believed was home to the tomb of an ancient Queen said to possess supernatural powers. The journey to the island is arduous - but nothing compared to what they'll endure once they get there.

Although Tomb Raider's narrative comes equipped with a baseline level of silliness, the film tries to disavow the ridiculousness of its premise rather than lean into it and have fun with it. This is a movie that includes a sequence in which its heroine saves herself from going over a waterfall by grabbing hold of a rusty plane that crash landed at the edge of the cliff, then manages to get into the plane as the wing is disintegrating beneath her feet, cuts away at the ropes that bind her hands (oh, did I mention that her hands are tied this while time?), then manages to get hold of a parachute right before she falls through the bottom of the plane, and then goes for a ride through the jungle while holding, rather than wearing, the parachute. This is dumb, but it could be fun dumb if the film had any sense of lightness. Instead Tomb Raider takes itself way too seriously, as if afraid that it won't be seen as a legitimate movie unless it goes grim and dark (and by "grim" and "dark" I mean that the bad guy uses slave labor in his quest to uncover the tomb).

It doesn't help that Vikander, while a very fine actress (as her Oscar can attest), does not possess the quality of "bigness" that a movie like this requires in order to be successful. That's not really a knock on Vikander; very few contemporary actors are able to go over-the-top and make it seem sublime rather than ridiculous - Eva Green can do it. Cate Blanchett makes it look easy. And unfortunately for this reboot, Angelina Jolie is a natural. This is the kind of film that requires a leading performance that's built around a wink, a sly acknowledgement that, yes, it's all kind of cheesy but cheese is good. Vikander plays things straight, taking the material as seriously as she did the fitness regimen necessary to get into the kind of shape the stunts demand, and that's a mistake.

This isn't to say that the film's problems come down to Vikander. Her performance is fine, it's just not what the film needs since the film is relying on being able to ride the coattails of the central performance. Like I said, the movie is mostly boring. It starts to pick up once it gets into the actual tomb, but that doesn't happen until a little more than half-way into the movie and the shift to the tomb actually ends up inadvertently highlighting one of the film's conceptual problems. On the face of it, Tomb Raider has a fairly diverse cast in the sense that the sidekick is Asian and the majority of the characters on the island are people of color. However, most of those people on the island are slaves who don't even get any lines, and the sidekick's role literally becomes "wait here while I finish the adventure." Lara goes into the tomb and the film follows her, while the sidekick spends the rest of the movie off-screen until the mountain which contains the tomb starts to collapse and he needs to dig Lara out. This is typical of how studios tend to address the issue of Hollywood's lack of on-screen diversity, by doing it in an entirely superficial way that ultimately renders it meaningless. It's possible that Lu Ren would have played a more prominent role in a sequel - which the film quite clearly intended to have and in which Kristin Scott Thomas' character would have been the villain - but this is why you don't count your chickens before they hatch.

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