Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourselves as the summer movie season is stepping closer daily. Strap in as the big names, big explosions, and big budgets gear up to fight tooth and nail for the top spot of the box office. That does raise a question, though. We’re not quite deep into that season yet, so we are still seeing some interesting moves in some movies. Tomb Raider moves to the newer versions of the video game as the basis for their reboot. The question, however, comes with their choice for Lara.
Alicia Vikander, a name most of you may not be familiar with yet, steps into the role that, regardless of your feelings of the first two films, has a large vacuum from a name like Angelina Jolie. So, my question is how to decide between paying for the established big name and taking a chance on a more unknown name. There has to be a point when the new names become popular. At one point, nobody knew who Harrison Ford was, nobody had heard of a lady named Jennifer Lawrence. I love when I discover new talents. I remember the first time I watched Daniel Wu and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Back to Tomb Raider, Vikander may not be that unknown for those of you, like me, who saw a lesser-known gem titled Ex Machina. Knowing the acting talent I saw in that film, I am not surprised at the details that she brings to Lara Croft. She manages to make this smaller frame girl a real action star. She may even be a little too formidable in the story as the girl who takes a spike to the stomach and climbs a mountain right after as if it were nothing. But to Vikander’s credit, the realism comes with her responses. In fights, she highlights the vast disadvantage she has with some less than fair fighting. But more, she shows the pain, she screams when she gets hit, she grunts and snarls when she falls. It’s a direct take from the newer version of the video game when they show Lara Croft on her first tomb. She’s not the experienced femme fatale that can drop a platoon without hesitation. You see the pain in her eyes with the constant disasters, you see the clumsiness with her first outing. Even if it doesn’t last.
Lara travels to her first tomb in search of her father, who was the original tomb raider, following a comment that they as Crofts have responsibilities to follow. The ensuing chaos does somewhat contradict the whole “deserted island” preamble they set up, but hey, it’s an action movie. Not everything is going to make a ton of sense. Making it onto the island and several high intensity scenes seem to show that Director Roar Uthaug definitely played close attention to the newer games. They seem pulled straight from the source material in set up and execution with a fast-paced, high-adrenaline sequence that pushes and pushes until you finally think you’re actually done with it, but then pushes one last time to another catastrophe to survive. I must give credit that I saw great homage to the source and great adaptation across the two media platforms, something very rarely achieved in video game movies.
For all its glory and sparkle, I still feel the same problem with this film as I do many origin stories, especially in today’s world of comic book movies. I don’t think this film takes enough time to truly enjoy the clumsiness of origins. I love that Vikander expresses this raw, unrefined heroine who is learning what she truly can do. However, the movie makes the leap too quickly from a London teen, coping with life, family, and finances, to a cold-blooded tomb raider who gets impaled, shrugs it off, climbs a mountain, fights an army, unlocks a centuries old tomb’s puzzles, and generally wades through life-threatening, PTSD-inducing, carnage without flinching. You missed the beauty of the metamorphosis, the awesomeness of smoothing out those rough edges. I missed the growth.
I also missed out on truly learning to despise this villain. Forgive me if I nitpick here, because I do realize that we only have so much time in a movie. Still, from the time I meet Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) I never truly see anything to stand out. When he is beaten by the end of the movie, I didn’t feel a victory. I didn’t see him separate from the numberless goons that surrounded him as the stereotypical “bad-guy henchman.” He was simply there, a face in the crowd, an obstacle to overcome.
The true villainy of the film comes from its lack of presence, a name on a box, a voice on a phone. A villain that is not really even named until the end when they, inevitably, set up for the sequel.
I see so much on both sides of this film. I can’t honestly say you should definitely drop what you’re doing and see it tonight, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy myself. It was fun. It was intense. It was finally a movie worthy of its source. Ladies and gentlemen, it is a step toward hope for future video-game-movies.