Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, March 23, 2018

Critic's Corner: Lara Croft’s no Indy, but she’s still fun

Lara Croft makes the leap from video games to movies in “Tomb Raider,” a brisk, well-made action-adventure film that delivers plenty of B movie thrills. It’s no “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but what film is?

Lara has been on the big screen before in a pair of movies starring Angelina Jolie (“Lara Croft – Tomb Raider” in 2001 and “The Cradle of Life” in 2003). Perhaps you remember them. Or, maybe you remember Jolie being in them, as she was a perfect Lara trapped in two terrible films.

The new Tomb Raider has nothing in common with those movies except their connection to the popular games. First launched in 1996, the games follow Croft, a whip-smart, globe-trotting, gun-toting adventuress who lives alone in her family mansion after the untimely deaths of her wealthy parents.

Like a cross between Mario and Indiana Jones, Lara spends her time running, jumping and climbing her way through the titular tombs and killing enemies with her double-fisted pistols – all of which are suitable fodder for a popcorn-munching action flick.

The new film lifts its story from the game of the same name released in 2013. Like that interactive offering, the movie is a reboot that ignores the previous films, which probably wasn’t difficult since it stars a young, untested Lara rather than the battle-hardened version featured in the Jolie pics.

Lara is introduced not in a tomb but a London boxing ring, taking a pummeling from a fellow pugilist but not giving up. After the bout, the owner of the ring asks for her fee, but she doesn’t have it. Instead of hunting the world for priceless relics, she’s scraping by making deliveries on a bike.

The plot rears its head when Lara goes to her father’s corporate headquarters to reluctantly sign the papers that will declare him dead seven years after he went missing and release her inheritance. During the transaction, the lawyer gives her a Chinese puzzle her dad left her, which she solves while he prattles on. When it pops open, it offers Lara a clue that launches a far-reaching search for her beloved father.

Along the way, Lara becomes wrapped up in a mystery involving the search for a mythical ancient queen her dad believed could kill people simply by touching them. OK, a dusty old queen isn’t the Ark of the Covenant, but then what is?

I watched “Tomb Raider” with a big grin stretched across my face. The action scenes, while not original or inventive, are good, solid fun with director Roar Uthaug showing skill and confidence from behind the camera.

Like the games, the movie isn’t all bad guys and bullets. Rather, Uthaug mixes things up from scene to scene. In one memorable sequence, Lara attempts to escape the rusted, crumbling hulk of an airplane suspended over a deep ravine. In another, the camera follows her as she moves stealthily through an enemy camp. In still another, she uses her bow and arrow to unleash payback. The variety keeps the action fresh and the movie from becoming a one-note bore.

As much as I enjoyed the action, I was more impressed with the film’s take on Ms. Croft. The Lara in this film is not a one-dimensional video game vixen but a substantive, well-rounded person.

She’s athletic, smart and observant, which helps her overcome obstacles that require her to use her mind as well as her physicality. Although inexperienced, she’s determined and blessed with innate ability. She’s also driven by heartbreak and her belief that the final chapter of her father’s life has not yet been written.

I wasn’t expecting emotional depth in “Tomb Raider” but was pleased to find it. A great deal of credit goes to Alicia Vikander, the Academy Award-winning actress who plays Lara. Not only can she believably outrun a spray of bullets, her chops as a dramatic actress lend credibility to the film’s introspective moments.

One of the best parts of “Tomb Raider” is watching Lara gradually become the person Jolie played. For example, when she kills her first enemy out of necessity, Uthaug doesn’t rush past the moment or give her a cheesy quip, but pauses to allow Lara to digest what she did and why. “Tomb Raider” might have its roots in a video game, but it grows beyond them.

Although “Tomb Raider” delivers on multiple fronts, it needed a better ending. What happens is unexpected and kind of clever, but the staging is bland. To spice things up, Uthaug inserted a sequence in which Lara has to dodge several traps. It’s unnecessary and doesn’t make sense geographically.

“Tomb Raider” also needed a better-drawn villain. Mathias Voge is, presumably, a skilled archeologist, but this is never explained. Instead, he comes across as an incompetent foreman who’s spent more time looking for the queen than his mysterious employer would likely allow. He’s certainly no René Belloq from “Raiders.”

Despite these shortcomings, “Tomb Raider” is worth the cost of admission. It might not be perfect, but then, what film is?