For some reason, adapting video games into good films has been the nut Hollywood just can’t seem to crack. The Resident Evil series has been successful, but I wouldn’t say it really holds up to the game. Personally, Silent Hill has been the only adaption I’ve really enjoyed, and that film has divided fans as well. As for the Tomb Raider franchise that kicked off in 2001, sure, it had some fun sequences. And with Angelina Jolie becoming a hot commodity at the time, it’s not too much of a surprise that it did well at the box office. Now 17 years later, the time has come for Tomb Raider to get a makeover and work its way through the reboot machine. This is a reboot, though, I don’t mind; after all, the video game gave its featured character a makeover and decided to tell the story of a much younger Lara Croft. As for the film, how did it do as it followed the game’s footsteps by casting a younger actress to fill the role?
Tomb Raider is kind of a big deal for Warner Bros. Sure, they kicked in a lot of money for this film, but, more importantly, this was obviously a potential tentpole franchise that they hoped to squeeze several sequels out of. Because of the franchise potential, it is no surprise that they would cast a younger talent for the role of Lara Croft, and for me Alicia Vikander is great choice. For those unfamiliar with Vikander, I simply can’t recommend Ex Machina enough. Is she Angelina Jolie? No, but that’s okay; times have changed, and, instead of sexualizing the role, we get a more grounded and relatable take on the character.
Seven years have passed since Lara’s father (Dominic West) went missing while attempting to find the tomb of Himiko — “the Mother of Death” — and Lara has grown to be a fiercely independent woman. Rather than living off her father’s fortune, she struggles as a bike courier in London where she manages to get herself into a bit of trouble with the authorities after a biking mishap. It’s during a visit to her father’s office to sign over the business that she is handed a puzzle box that was expected to be given to her as part of her father’s will. The puzzle is a piece of a clue that will lead Lara to what her father has been obsessing over for years. While this portion of the story isn’t bad, it simply feels generic; we’ve seen it all before, but thankfully things begin to pick up once Lara decides to try to find her father.
One thing that comes across in the film’s style is that it does feel as though we are watching a video game. Whether it’s a bike chase through the streets of London or a foot chase along the crowded docks of Japan, it feels as though we are watching someone play a videogame as they seem to level up with every sequence that moves the story along. There are even sequences in the movie that are lifted right out of the game, one of which has Lara encountering a waterfall.
The villain of the film is Mathias Vogel, played by the great Walton Goggins. Every role this guy takes he manages to make his own, and it’s his presence that makes this character a formidable foe. Vogel works for a mysterious group that searches for paranormal artifacts, and he has been stuck on an island for seven years, unable to leave until the tomb of Himiko is found. My biggest problem with the film is that when it gets to the island, it begins to feel all too familiar. It’s one thing to be inspired by Indiana Jones, but it is another when it seems to be recreating moments out of The Last Crusade. What’s even more frustrating is that once Tomb Raider enters its third act, the film seems to lose its focus on developing Lara as a strong-willed heroine and simply makes her a generic reactionary character. We don’t get to see her brains or brawn…she’s just kind of there.
The film is directed by Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug, who made the very entertaining adventure The Wave in 2015. For his first American film, Uthaug shows he has a firm grasp on the expected action beats, but this needed to be something more. Even the scenes with Lara interacting with her father in flashbacks just fell flat for me.
Tomb Raider is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The ultra-high-definition 2160p image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with an average bitrate of 65 mbps. The ultra-high-definition image presentation is greatly effected by the use of strong filters during the shoot. The image is often dark, and colors are not intended to pop much here. The only real color you get is on some wide establishing shots. Otherwise everything is deeply steeped in brown earth tones. The f/x don’t always hold up at this kind of resolution. The shipwreck scene is somewhat blurred and dark, obviously covering a multitude of sins. The HDR gets to do its work mainly in some fine contrast moments. Light shafts in dark tombs provide nice atmospheric moments. The detail can be found in dust motes and most particularly in close-ups.
The Dolby Atmos presentation defaults to a pretty good 7.1 track. This audio presentation doesn’t provide a lot of aggressive use of sounds. Instead the surrounds are used to give us some rather good placement. You really get a feel for the close spaces in the underground caverns through the fine use of surrounds and EQ. That’s not to say there aren’t scenes that fill the surround fields with immersive chatter. The subs kick in during the explosive moments, and while the shipwreck scene isn’t so fine visually, it’s completely captivating on the audio side. Dialog cuts through nicely.
The extras are all on the Blu-ray copy of the film:
Tomb Raider Uncovered: (7:06) This feature spotlights the new direction both the rebooted film and game franchises have taken on the character. The film is pretty much based on the game reboot story. There’s plenty of cast and crew input here. There’s also some focus on the director. Throw in some stunt coverage with lots of behind-the-scenes footage, and you have a pretty good idea what’s in store here.
Croft Training: (6:06) This feature gives us a taste of the training and prep that Alicia Vikander went through for the role. We get a look at typical days of training and then shooting.
Breaking Down The Rapids: (5:34) This is a scene-specific behind-the-scenes look at all of the elements to Lara’s water escape.
Lara Croft – Evolution Of An Icon: (9:53) This feature takes a look at the evolution of the game series. We get plenty of play footage from all of the games going back to the crude graphics of the 1986 start. Fans, players, and cast members talk about the games and their own feelings and experiences of the franchise over the years.
At the end of the day, Tomb Raider is brainless fun but a far cry from what it could have been. As a videogame adaption, this is still one of the better ones.
Parts of this review were written by Gino Sassani