Lara Croft has had a bizarre, unique impact on popular culture, ever since her debut as a mass of Polygonal, pixelated-mammories, in 1996’s original Tomb Raider video-game. Clearly intended, originally, as a sexy Indiana Jones designed to stimulate horny 90’s teenagers everywhere – in the days, of course, where pixels excited us; before the rise of glorious HD graphics – she was featured in two terrible movies fronted by Angelina Jolie in the early 2000’s, becoming, against all logic, a household name.
After the games were rebooted in 2013 to become more modernised – ‘Grittier narrative, less sexualisation,’ – it was inevitable that – in the era of strong, female protagonists – Hollywood would eventually attempt to give her the Christopher Nolan treatment. Helmed by the relatively unknown Roar Uthaug, written by the completely unknown duo of Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, and fronted by the talented – yet wasted – Alicia Vikander; this reboot-come-origin-story is less Batman Begins, and more Batman falls on his face. As is typical with an origin story, she begins as a relatively normal, broke young woman, living alone in London. The daughter of the rich and mysterious Lord Richard Croft – of Croft Manner – who mysteriously disappeared seven years ago, Lara continuously rejects her inheritance, out of a reluctance to accept her father’s passing. After a run in with the law, however, she decides to take it, sending her on a quest beyond her wildest imagination, to find out what became of her father, and the truth of the mysterious legend of Mimiko.
If that story sounds intriguing to you (if unoriginal), like it actually did to me when I browsed the synopsis, don’t get too excited. The film lacks anything resembling a consistent tone or atmosphere, instead falling into the traps of most major Hollywood productions these days, which, at this point, are beginning to all essentially melt into the same film, remade time after time, on a continuous loop, until I finally lose all semblance of sanity and begin to refer to everything as Conventional Hollywood: The Motion Picture. As with all of these films, it’s a hybrid of lazy CGI action, poorly rendered backgrounds, moments of levity immediately dispelled with cringe-inducing ‘comedic’ one-liners, and characters who are all essentially the same. Lara Croft is one of video-games’ most genuinely interesting characters; an intelligent, witty and three-dimensional human being. This incarnation, however, is a microcosmic example of the wider issue of the lazy pushing of strong, female characters in contemporary Hollywood. There is nothing wrong – and I really must stress this – with a strong, female character. Nobody has an issue with a Beatrix Kiddo or a Norma Desmond being given large amounts of screen-time and focus. What I do take issue with, is when the writing becomes lazy, and we get a bunch of near-perfect identi-clones running around every modern blockbuster, all duplicates of one another.
Lara’s character – in this film – is the sarcastic, fiery, sassy, all-around good girl. She is, essentially, the exact same character as Rey from Star Wars. There is no discernible difference between the two. Both inoffensively perfect, they become offensively boring, with no dimensions to really explore beyond basic ideas; good vs bad, love, doing the right thing. It’s hard to fairly judge Vikander’s performance, as the script is so bland that she never really had much of a chance. To be her credit, she does the best she possibly could, and definitely plays the character she is directed as well as she can. The same, sadly, goes for the rest of the cast; meaning discussing their performances is somewhat asinine. This type of film, really, with such a vanilla narrative and two-dimensional characters, live and dies by the atmosphere, tension, and excitement it has to offer. Knowing it will never be considered high-art, it has to be at least engaging, briskly paced, and interesting to look at. Unfortunately, the writers decide to spend the first twenty minutes on the most pedestrian possible character development. Yes, we need it; all films hinge on the development of the cast, but, when the characters are this shallow and uninteresting, it feels like a waste of valuable screen-time. It never really gets any better, continuing to be lifeless; slowly limping towards the end of the run-time.
It isn’t helped whatsoever by Uthaug’s listless directorial efforts. Not only is the script awful, but the visual storytelling is without much creativity or intrigue whatsoever. The lack of atmosphere and poor choices of soundtrack – a strange concoction of generic stock Hollywood score and in- your face hip-hop – both fall on his shoulders.
There is, thankfully, at least one good scene in the film, as a criminally underused Nick Frost makes the most of his small amount of screen-time, and solicits the film’s only genuine laugh. That was, however, no more than a small amount of shine on a large amount of turd. Tomb Raider tries, desperately, to be a gritty and modern reboot; bringing an old character into a contemporary, modernised setting, trading breasts for abs and sex appeal for terrible jokes.
Unfortunately, it falls flat on its face from the oft; offering a dull, tepid experience masquerading as an adventure. The plot is formulaic, the twists predictable, the acting stunted by a poor script, and the location squandered by uninspiring cinematography. It did, however, achieve at least one of the goals it set out to. It sets the standard for the rest of this presumed franchise; it has conditioned us to expect mediocrity.
Review by Joshua Moulinie
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