Tomb Raider 2018
Critical Review Rating: 51%
“Some men are foolish”
I hold a somewhat, unfair and subjective standard, the sooner a film is released onto a streaming service, the poorer it will generally be. I believe this measure holds up under scrutiny, certainly within the UK the larger more successful films after release will in general appear first on Sky or other packaged movie services demanding a premium before finding more general release. Be they free to watch digital channels or through online subscription services but certainly after a fixed amount of time. When a film is released and is available to stream within the same year, traditionally that would suggest it hasn’t gained traction or found favour and has been allow to go for a lower price, such is the case with the latest iteration of the Tomb Raider franchise now available to watch via Netflix. Released last year to mixed acclaim this is a vision of the gaming franchise consistent with the current aesthetic and appearance, a more earnest narrative portraying the struggles of a young, abandoned Lara from the streets of London to the jungles of Asia. Anyone familiar with the most recent game series and appearance will instantly recognise the direction the film franchise has opted to pursue. And, for good reason with the recent trend towards dystopian and grounded fantasy such as the Hunger Games franchise where any fragments of optimism and hope are earned through sacrifice and fortitude.
Using an interwoven narrative that focuses on the present day escapades of Lara juxtaposed to her motivation based on the events in her past and the impact of a loss of a parent the movie follows her from the streets of London on a quest to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance in the jungles of Asia and showing her progression from a delivery rider to the action hero she is destined to become. In general, the narrative is very similar in beats and moments to that found in the most recent game series, the protagonist overcoming adversity and shedding her innocence in the face of a growing, overwhelming threat. Clearly the director and writers wanted to follow this path, the game series has gained a substantial amount of critical acclaim for its more grounded and real take on the character of Lara Croft, inspired by other media perhaps, but the trend of telling the origin story of a character has perhaps begun to pass and whether this was strictly needed is questionable. For a new generation and a new audience it serves its purpose, for those familiar with the story of Miss Croft witnessing her as a food courier on a bike was a strange opening moment. This is at its foundation an origin story, it serves its purpose in that regard and by the closing credits has established the character with her required equipment and attitude but does it reach that conclusion in a justified way?
There were a number of elements I did enjoy about the film. Beginning with London, as a resident of this fair city I do grow tedious with the aim to present on film a Cool Britannia feel on a regular basis, the blue hued tint that signifies the onset of a European location with steel buildings and sleek fast cars. London on film is a world away from what we as residents experience, and in Tomb Raider whilst certainly showcasing certain buildings and locations purely from a shot perspective I enjoyed how it presented the city on the street, it felt and looked just a little more grounded than I normally experience. There were a few moments of levity, the inclusion of Nick Frost was a nice touch who can deliver a well quipped line or scene with gusto, focusing on only a handful of locations as opposed to the sometimes jarring nature of the recent Bond and even the old Tomb Raider films was a good move I felt as it kept the narrative tight and focused and acted as a nice contrast between the streets of London and Japan despite being shot almost entirely in South Africa. The action and fight scenes, were predictably but also appreciatively brutal and grounded. Whilst I don’t need to see Bourne level’s of action in every movie there was a certain level of apprehension given the subject matter punches would be pulled when it came to Lara. At the risk of sounding like a masochist I did enjoy the more brutal fight scenes and would suggest if we ever wish to move towards equality if you are going to have female action hero’s and characters on a par with their male counterparts then you need to allow the action to be shot, the punches to be struck, the violence to be as brutal and grounded as possible. I’ll always go back to the end of Aliens when Ripley pulls herself up from the airlock, her face bloodied and beaten, the respect is there because we’ve witnessed the punishment she has taken and overcome. The film borrowed from the game series in its use of setting the beats and largely paid off in some instances, the most obvious of course being the reaction of Lara to her first human kill, a traumatic moment in the game and one replicated quite faithfully in the movie. Whilst we have a certain level of, antipathy to certain repeated moments we see often in movies this was a very visceral moment in the game series and to see it shown on the big screen was a welcome touch.
There were of course a great many elements I felt were weak, and conversely we’ll start with the counterpart to that mentioned above. Whilst the move did replicate some of its best beats it did unfortunately copy the, eclectic tone of Lara’s journey. Which is to say, a a young adult working as a food delivery courier and living in central London on a presumably modest income given she is referenced to be struggling to pay bills for reasons goes on a voyage of discovery to Asia and triumphs in a fist fight then goes on to kill a substantial amount of nameless villains with seemingly little remorse or feelings as a result. The game suffered from this same issue, of showing great remorse and grief before seemingly resolving her issues within a moment and going on to become a killing machine. It was always going to be an issue if they copied that exact moment and sadly remains so. Not that it matters, the villains are all fairly nameless and forgettable, the central bad guy doesn’t hold any great menace and towards the end when the movie almost veers towards the Last Crusade with its plot mechanics ultimately is removed from the picture with a jarring cheesy quip from Miss Croft. I enjoy Dominic West as an actor but found his inclusion baffling in this movie from a tonal and narrative stand point, as an echo of the past he served a purpose, driving her forward but once he took on a more solidified role the expected father issues presented themselves and her motivation was lost entirely. Before shifting again towards copying the last segment of the Last Crusade. And of course we have the supporting cast on the island, who had a reason to stay and support Lara, but honestly by the end I had forgotten or didn’t care, they were largely nameless and forgettable and the obligatory sequel shot towards the end felt unessential. If they were going to copy elements of Indiana Jones the closed off final scenes would have been a welcome change, not every film needs a coda scene during the credits. And please, script writers, stop trying to force playful nicknames on us, sprout.
The final movie, taken at its entirety feels like a mixed event, the first half, tonaly a grounded origin story following the progression and growth of the heroine from her humble beginnings to a blossoming and certified action hero having experienced the anguish and suffering similar to her contemporaries. Unfortunately the film then decides to abandon any natural progression and to a degree abandons her, as the central villain and Dominic West take centre stage. I like Sean Connery but The Last Crusade was still a Harrison Ford movie and this just doesn’t feel like a Alicia Vikander film until the final scenes of the movie and choosing to have her moment of triumph and resurgence be a line more akin to the awful Jolie movies was a sin. The action was grounded and brutal, I will admit it will take time to see and feel at ease the female action stars take the sort of punishment scenes on-screen usually reserved for male actors but if we want to present positive role models for women to aspire to akin to, for example my admiration of Harrison Ford when I was child, in Indiana Jones there are worst examples to witness and worse films to watch. I enjoyed the more realistic take of the game series, I enjoyed the fact a movie was shot to replicate this style of story telling. Perhaps in some regards it simulated the game a little to closely specifically around the moral repercussions and seeming abandonment of morality within a very short space of time. If there were to be a sequel I wouldn’t be adverse to watching it I would just hope if there were to be another film, like the most recent Spiderman game released on home console the director wouldn’t feel the need to reboot her origins once more. That a director could have the confidence and respect towards the audience and present a grounded, confident woman in her own right, not every hero needs a traumatic origin to be who they are.
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