Hollywood continues its strategy to produce safe, familiar, market-tested, franchise-friendly films with the reboot of the adventures of Lara Croft, this time starring Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (THE DANISH GIRL; EX MACHINA) as the heiress who has a penchant for adventure and puzzle-solving.
Based on the rebooted 2013 video game of the same name which saw the cartoon Lara lose her porn star Barbie doll body measurements, the film goes back to Lara’s origins as a carefree bicycle courier in London who lets off steam by doing mixed martial arts at a local gym. Barely able to make ends meet though she’s potentially sitting on a fortune that she can inherit from her industrialist/archeologist father, all Lara needs to do is officially declare Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West, perhaps best known for his role on TV’s THE WIRE) dead and his estate will be hers. But even after seven years of his being missing, Lara isn’t ready to throw in the towel. She thinks her father is still out there somewhere.
After Lara, who loves solving puzzles, uncovers Richard’s private office hidden deep in the basement of their stately manor, she learns that he had identified an island located off the coast of Japan where Himiko, the mythical Queen of Yamatai, is entombed. Convinced that this is where he is, she goes to Hong Kong to find Lu Ren, the man who supposedly took him to the island on his boat. There, she meets Lu Ren’s son, also Lu Ren (Hong Kong resident Daniel Wu), who tells her that his father has gone missing too. He agrees to take her to Yamatai and, in true Tomb Raider fashion, Lara must overcome a series of physical and mental challenges to get there safely. Once on the island, she bumps up against the evil Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins, THE HATEFUL EIGHT), a rival archeologist who is on a mission for a shadowy organisation known as Trinity to find Himiko’s tomb. Lara’s challenge is to leap over chasms, cross a raging river, dodge bullets, shoot arrows and solve even more puzzles to find the tomb before Vogel can and then destroy it before Trinity can use its power to nefarious ends.
Having never played the video game (in fact, my experience with video games is limited to Pac-Man and Pong) and having never seen the previous two Tomb Raider films starring Angelina Jolie, I’m about as far away from the filmmakers’ target demographic as you can get. So, it’s no surprise that I was mildly indifferent to this film. I’ll concede that Vikander is believable as the intrepid adventurer – she apparently put on 12 pounds of muscle for the role, which is a lot for someone who is just under 5-1/2 feet tall – the stunts are well done and the challenges, like in the video game, get progressively more complex, but for the same reasons that I don’t find playing video games interesting, TOMB RAIDER left me shrugging my shoulders in meh-ness. The story never reaches the level of tension or the humour that RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK has. One of my colleagues at my screening called the film “Raiders Lite” and I would have to agree.
It was nice to see Hong Kong on the big screen though, even if it was all CGI. Yes, the filmmakers never came here. (By the way, while that is Aberdeen you’re apparently seeing, it isn’t quite Wang Chuk Hang. It’s technically Ap Lei Chau, which sits a few hundred feet to the west which, given Hong Kong’s dense population, means a few hundred thousand people. I know because I lived in Ap Lei Chau for eight years.)
Even with its averageness, TOMB RAIDER will probably earn enough money to warrant a sequel or two. Certainly, the story leaves the possibility open. The suits are Warner Bros. must be pleased. Another franchise is born.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, March 15th at 8:30 am HK time!
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