Sunday, October 7, 2018

"TOMB RAIDER" (2018) Review

"TOMB RAIDER" (2018) Review

Some seventeen years ago, Paramount Pictures released a movie called "TOMB RAIDER". It starred Angelina Jolie and it was based upon a popular video game of the same title. The success of this film led to sequel that was released two years. However, that was as far this film franchise went. For a while. Fifteen years after the second film, Warner Brothers, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and two smaller production companies released a reboot featuring actress Alicia Vikander. 

This new or "reboot" "TOMB RAIDER" was not based upon the 1996 video game, but the new 2013 game that reconstructed the origins of the franchise's heroine, Lara Croft. Major elements of this game was utilized by screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons for the movie's plot. In this reboot, Lara Croft makes a living as a bike courier in London, seven years after the disappearance of her archaeologist father, Lord Richard Croft. After Lara is arrested for a traffic incident with a police car, her father's partner, Ana Miller, encourages her to declare Lord Richard dead and claim her inheritance before the family's estate, Croft Manor, is sold. While examining her father's tomb, Lara discovers a pre-recorded message from him that details his research into Himiko, the mythical Queen of Yamatai. Richard also warns Lara to destroy all of his research, but Lara decides to further investigate his disappearance.

Lara's search for Richard leads her to Hong Kong, where she hires Lu Ren, the owner and captain of a ship called Endurance. Lu Ren turns out to be the son of the captain whom Lara's father had hired to take him to the Devil's Sea and the island of Yamatai, seven years earlier. The Endurance capsizes during a violent storm and both Lara and Lu Ren are washed ashore. The pair finds themselves taken prisoner and used as slave labor by one Mathias Vogel, the leader of an expedition to locate Himiko's tomb. The expedition has been funded by a shadowy organization called Trinity that seeks to harness and weaponize Himiko's power. 

"TOMB RAIDER" had received mixed reviews by film critics, but made a decent profit at the box office. Although the film made less money than Angelina Jolie's 2001 film, it made more money than the latter's 2003 sequel. Go figure. I will say this about this new "TOMB RAIDER" . . . it proved to be one of the most brutal action adventure films I have seen in recent years. One would not expect this after viewing the light-hearted "fox hunt" through London that led to Lara's arrest earlier in the film or her encounter with three thieves near Hong Kong Harbor. Once Lara and Lu Ren ended up on Yamatai, the movie became a narrative filled with brutal action as the pair and other Trinity slaves struggled to survive and escape their situation. This brutality was especially apparent in one sequence in which Lara managed to temporarily escape Vogel and his men, while one of the latter tracks her throughout the island.

Another aspect of "TOMB RAIDER" that I found particularly interesting is that its narrative seemed to be more or less coming-of-age story for the main protagonist. I found it odd that Lara was living in a small London flat, working as a bike carrier. At first, I assumed that her character had been revamped as a working-class woman, who would find herself swept into some adventure. But the revelation of her upper-class background, following her arrest, made me realize that Lara had been spending the previous seven years hiding from the heartache of her father's disappearance. Between her journey to the East and her adventures on Yamatai Island, Lara was forced to grow up and accept responsibility of her family inheritance. And in doing so, Lara discovered that the Trinity organization was not only owned by Croft Holdings, but also used its resources to find and weaponize supernatural artifacts . . . behind the backs of the Croft family. It was this discovery that led Lara to kick start her career as a "tomb raider".

However, the adventure on Yamatai Island and the search for Himiko's tomb led to what I regard as the film's one serious flaw. Although Queen Himiko was historically known as a shaman; Lara, Vogel and others discovered that the queen's body may or may not have held any magical properties. They discovered that the reason behind Himiko's sarcophagus being entombed in such an extreme manner was that the shaman/queen's body carried a disease so potent that mere physical contact triggered immediate bodily disintegration for some, and reduced others who are infected to an aggressive zombie-like state. Images around the tomb reveal that Himiko, who was a carrier and immune to the virus, had voluntarily traveled to the island and sacrificed herself to contain the virus. If I must be honest, I am a bit confused over whether Himiko's body had possessed a supernatural force or not. The video games, along with the two Jolie films, pretty made it clear that whatever artifact that Lara or the main villain sought had magical properties. I cannot say the same about Queen Himiko's body in this film. One scene featured Lara, Vogel and the others realizing that the queen's body had no magical properties. Yet, another scene featured one of Vogel's men disintegrating into dust and another becoming a zombie. I found the whole matter confusing.

Despite this problem, I enjoyed "TOMB RAIDER" and I enjoyed the performances featured in it. I confess that when I first learned that Alicia Vikander had been cast to portray Lara Croft . . . I just could not see it. I never saw the actress as the type to portray the protagonist in an action film. Thankfully, Ms. Vikander proved me wrong. She handled the actions scenes very well and I was also impressed by how she also conveyed Lara's character development.

Vikander also benefited from a talented supporting cast. Daniel Wu gave a charismatic performance as the Hong Kong sea captain Lu Ren, who conveyed Lara to Himiko Island. I was so impressed by his performance that I wish he had been in more scenes. Walton Goggins' portrayal as the villainous Mathias Vogel, who represented the Trinity organization. In fact, I found his Vogel to be a more interesting villain than the one he had portrayed in the recent Marvel film, "ANT-MAN & THE WASP". I also enjoyed Dominic West's performance as Lara's father, Lord Richard Croft. I thought he gave an excellent portrayal of the character's emotional journey throughout the film. The film also benefited from supporting performances from the likes of Kristin Scott-Thomas, a very funny Nick Frost and Jaime Winstone, Hannah John-Kamen, Emily Carey (who portrayed a younger Lara) and Derek Jacobi.

I am not going to pretend that "TOMB RAIDER" is a classic action-adventure film. But is it better than the two previous Lara Croft movies? I honestly do not know. My real complaint about the movie is that it seemed indecisive on whether the artifact that everyone sought was supernatural or not. "TOMB RAIDER" is not as stylized as the 2001 and 2003 films. But I do not consider this a bad thing. And if I must be honest, I was impressed by how director Roar Uthaug gave a brutal edge to the film's actions and Alicia Vikander's portrayal of Lara Croft. I may be unable to decide whether this film is better than the Jolie films, but I can state that I genuinely enjoyed it.

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