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Roar Uthaug Tomb Raider Review

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Tomb Raider | Review

Tomb Raider | Review

A Tomb of One’s Own: Uthuag Cracks a Croft Pot with Video Game Reboot

Roar Uthaug Tomb Raider PosterNorwegian helmer Roar Uthaug, who scored an international breakthrough with his 2015 disaster thriller The Wave lands on US soil with the grim tasking of resurrecting video game vixen Lara Croft in the rebooted Tomb Raider, taking the reins from Angelina Jolie, who originated the role in 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and the 2003 sequel Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (directed by Simon West and Jan de Bont, respectively). The screenplay from Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alistair Siddons drops the eponymous heroine’s name from the title and attempts something a bit more streamlined and demure, crafting Croft as a scrappy, spunky heiress to her father’s formidable international empire, a fortune beyond her reach until she allows his seven year disappearance to be declared death in absentia. Getting wrapped up in the mystery which consumed her final’s last known days allows for Croft to discover her untapped inner reserves, and thus becomes her origin story. However, Robertson-Dworet pilfers everyone from Spielberg’s Indiana Jones series (you can’t miss some striking similarities to Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade) to H. Rider Haggard’s classic adventure novels (particularly She), and churns up a flimsy tornado of top soil in this pointless, incredibly lazy rehash of a fan boy facsimile.

Mourning the disappearance of her father (Dominic West) seven years prior, twenty-one-year-old Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) works as a bike courier and barely makes the rent despite having a sizeable inheritance at her fingertips. At last relenting in admitting her father may never return thanks to the well-meaning pressure of her father’s attorney (Kristin Scott Thomas), Vikander stumbles upon a secret note which points her in the direction of Lord Richard Croft’s last adventure—to unearth the tomb of legendary Japanese Death Queen Himiko. Setting a course for Tokyo, Croft tracks down the son (Daniel Wu) of the man who assisted her father in reaching the destination from which he never returned. After surviving the wicked elements, Lara Croft stumbles into some expected trouble.

What’s perhaps most interesting about Tomb Raider is where it falls in the trajectory of its leading ladies’ careers. Jolie’s 2001 chapter arrived two years after her Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for Girl Interrupted (1999), and likewise, Vikander’s post-Oscar resume for 2014’s The Danish Girl shows a similar dabbling in Hollywood’s franchise machine (which includes her participation in 2016’s Jason Bourne). However, Vikander’s portrayal of Croft won’t be likely to do her (or director Uthaug) any real favors in comparison to Jolie’s earlier, also perilously flawed characterization. With plenty of eye-roll worthy dialogue, Vikander sifts her way through some surprisingly lackluster motions (cringe as she flirts with fellow bikers or bonds with amateur boxers through flat jokes), which includes a waste of esteemed British actors in wincing supporting turns (Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi), and two sequences with fan favorite Nick Frost (which includes a rather questionable firearm display, considering they are illegal in the UK). Something more interesting is promised when Daniel Wu is revealed as the male lead, suggesting a possible interracial romance with one of Hollywood’s most neglected ethnic groups, but the script doesn’t allow for any real development besides a rushed camaraderie.

Tomb Raider gets real hoary after several unnecessary action sequences, which fail to raise the film’s tepid narrative pulse. Besides allowing some real world parables by showcasing white ‘adventurers’ as what they tended to historically morph into (colonizers, pillagers, and murderers, among other unseemly attributes) through a one-note Walton Goggins, the father-daughter reunion of Vikander and a cornball Dominic West tends to get in the way of more exciting possibilities. The audience is treated to a repeated expository monologue about the Death Queen known as Himiko, whose meagerly implied history suggests a more interesting kernel of storytelling than anything regarding Croft and her muddled family history (relayed through convenient montages reserved for audience members who might have lost interest in what’s being presented). But, like Universal’s ill-fated 2017 reboot of The Mummy, a denial of its villainous MacGuffin tends to cast a hunger for the dark shadow resolutely missing from a story which promises to be steeped in adventure but is instead only tiresome.

★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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