Thursday 29 March 2018

Tomb Raider - Roar Uthaug

Tomb Raider - Roar Uthaug

For a film called Tomb Raider, there’s very little actual tomb raiding here.

That may seem ironic, but it’s actually in-line with the game series on which this film is based. Long gone is the pointy-breasted double pistol-toting heroine of the 1996 original, and in her place is a more realistic characterisation: a young woman thrown into adventure unexpectedly, haunted by the loss of her missing father. This new film, from Norwegian director Roar Uthaug and starring Swede Alicia Vikander in the lead role, is faithful to the new games, but to a fault.

Its plot is essentially that of the most recent two games condensed into one. Lara is a young adrenaline junkie living in London, whose father mysteriously went missing eight years prior. She refuses his wealth, instead opting to stand on her own two feet, but she soon discovers her father’s archaeological studies and in the process uncovers the mystery of Himiko, the ancient Queen of Yamatai with power over life and death, buried on a lost island off the coast of Japan.

Events on the island eventually lead to some raiding of tombs, but up to that point the film takes itself far too seriously in its endeavour to portray a gritty, believable story. Lara is a twenty-first century heroine, a well-rounded woman instead of a lads mag fantasy, and Vikander gets top marks for effort. But even she, an Oscar winner, can’t elevate this cliché-riddled script. The relationship between Lara and her father (Dominic West) is laughable and full of trite Britishness – in fact West’s only acting direction is to speak “my darling” and “sprout” as wistfully as possible. It all just comes off as melodramatic – we’re meant to sympathise with Lara, but it’s difficult to warm to her. One minute she’s crying over her first kill, the next she’s firing arrows like she’s Legolas at Helm’s Deep. The game was criticised for this exact scene, but where the need to provide enemies to kill is perhaps more excusable in a game, here it’s an unwieldly shift in tone.

The action sequences, as expected, come with plenty of jumping (but sadly no handstands). Yet just like the recent games, Lara seemingly flies through the air making inexplicably long leaps, getting battered and bruised and smacked and stabbed yet miraculously never even being close to death. None of these sequences are delivered with the sort of wise-cracking wit or fun that you’d perhaps expect from this sort of adventure film; instead it’s a po-faced contrast to what’s come before. Worse, they’re practically all stolen from the games themselves. This is clearly meant to appease fans of the games, but really it’s just a lazy lack of creativity. Any nods to the series simply ensure the film is as boringly predictable as possible, rather than being clever nuggets. More to the point: if it’s more fun to sit with a controller and actually play through these sequences yourself, why watch the film at all?

That’s the main issue with Tomb Raider. Video games are unique in allowing player agency to control the action and the story. They’re interactive. They’re fun. That’s something that a film will never imitate successfully. That’s why this Tomb Raider film is just the next in a long line of average game to film adaptations.


Watch: Tomb Raider is out now.