Cinema Dispatch: Tomb Raider

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Tomb Raider and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by Roar Uthaug

ANOTHER video game movie!?  Haven’t we tried that like forty times already!?  Well that’s a bit unfair.  I’ve always maintained that a good chunk of them are actually pretty good for their respective genres such as the first Mortal Kombat, and we’ve rebooted the video game franchise since the LAST time we were making films off of this series, so an updated interpretation with brand new Lara Croft could really be something if they get the right people behind it!  Does this manage to be the first video game movie to be one that EVERYONE thinks is good instead of just me?  Let’s find out!!

Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is the daughter of a world renowned… business man I guess (Dominic West) considering her family is renting that building from Iron Fist, but she doesn’t hang around much anymore since her father disappeared several years ago.  Instead, she spends most of her time MMA training and working in the Gig Industry; riding her bike for fun AND profit!  However, an associate of her father (Kristin Scott Thomas) has to bail her out of trouble due to a situation that REALLY wasn’t her fault (how do you get arrested for getting hit by a car!?) and she insists that Lara give up this lifestyle to finally claim her birthright and the millions of dollars that go with it.  All she has to do is sign the documents confirming once and for all that her father is dead (is that a thing?  Does a family member have to sign those in order for a missing person to be declared dead?) which she’s been reluctant to do as she still thinks he’s out there somewhere.  She might just be right about that when she finds her father’s secret laboratory where he left a final message for Lara; telling her to burn all his research to the ground and to not look for him.  Naturally she doesn’t do that because who WOULD just give up after getting some pretty solid evidence that could lead to where he is, and so she enlists the help of a fisherman (Daniel Wu) whose father was connected to Lara’s and the two set off to some MYSTERIOUS ISLAND!  The good news is that it’s not Skull Island and teeming with giant monsters.  The bad news?  Well there are a bunch of dudes with guns looking for something on the island, and the head dude named Vogel (Walton Goggins) thinks that Lara might hold the key to finding it.  Will Lara be able to find what these men are looking for as well as finding her father in the process?  What are the sinister plans that Vogel has in store once he locates this mysterious artifact?  You know, we keep going on about her dad, but are we SURE that her mother is dead too?  All I’m saying is that if Angelina Jolie doesn’t show up in the sequel, I’m going to be VERY disappointed!

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“The Colonel’s secret recipe is right behind this door.  Once I unlock it, those eleven herbs and spices will be MINE!!”

Everyone’s been waiting for THE BIG ONE; as in the first film based on a video game to be unequivocally excellent and to garner respect and praise from those outside of the gaming sphere.  To me, this is something of a Sisyphean task as by the time we get to THE BIG ONE, it’s not gonna seem like THE BIG ONE.  Even if we’re still not getting GREAT video game movies, the genre (if you can even call it that) has evolved enough that we can see progress across the board and the quality of these has been incrementally rising.  Even if I didn’t like Angry Birds, it felt like a real animated kids film instead of some monstrosity borne from an incompatible source material (that would be Ratchet & Clank), and while we can point to the Uwe Boll era to see video game movies at their absolute worst, well it’s not like Prince of Persia, the first Silent Hill, and most of the Resident Evil movies were anywhere NEAR that level of awfulness.  Where does this new movie fall on this scale?  Around the middle I’d say.  I don’t like it as much as the Resident Evil films which were straight up B-Movie shlock, but the admirable ambitions of this film are COMPETENTLY realized and what we have is another okay action movie like a million other films we’ve seen before.  We’re one step closer to a GREAT video game movie because this one is not just “okay”, but ALSO feeling like it would play to a wider audience instead of a campier niche like the (far superior) Resident Evil movies.  Congratulations, Square Enix!  You made a movie that will make a few bucks before getting forgotten instead of bombing at the box office and living on in cinematic infamy!

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Look, guys!  You’re FINALLY in the big leagues!  Good thing everyone forgot that whole Spirits Within thing, am I right!?

Once again I’m faced with a movie that fails to have any particular strong points one way or the other which makes it twice as hard to even TALK about the thing in any substantive terms.  How’s the acting?  It’s fine even if some of the secondary characters and extras are REALLY hamming it up.  Alicia Vikander equips herself quite well in the role and is very convincing during the action scenes, but she doesn’t have a whole lot to work off of as there’s really no one in this that’s giving even half as interesting a performance as she is; settling on sidekicks, generic bad guys, father figures, and comic relief.  How are the effects?  They’re fine as well even if nothing is really all that impressive and the general tone and atmosphere of it seems to be building off of stuff we’ve seen before in films like The Mummy (the Brendan Fraser one) or Indiana Jones.  The only point that I can really find to be a strong negative here is the script which is not only rather vanilla but relies WAY too much on genre tropes and makes the whole thing that much more tedious to sit through.  There’s actually A LOT of Last Crusade in this movie which isn’t necessarily a BAD thing considering it was the last good Indiana Jones film (and it also came out almost thirty years ago), but you’ll see plot points coming a mile ahead because of just how derivative this feels of that movie as well as many others.

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I don’t know.  It was more impressive when they used sand.

Worse than the rather generic feeling of the script are the villains who are absolutely terrible in this, which is a shame considering how great of an actor Walton Goggins can be when given the right material.  As soon as she gets on the island, the movie gets really skeevy with this band of jacked bros wielding machine guns and Walton Goggins as head Broskie; the unpleasant Moe of this small army of stooges.  They’re just not INTERESTING as villains and the movie barely makes an attempt to give them the slightest bit of dimension or menace.  The only reason they’ve accomplished ANYTHING on this island is because they have guns, and even with that Lara Croft manages to outmaneuver them with hardly any effort.  A movie like this apparently needs to have bad guys around somewhere (I guess having her raid a tomb wouldn’t be compelling enough on its own), but their execution here is perfunctory at best and sinks to downright lazy in terms of writing.  The movie TRIES to give Walton Goggins a little bit of depth by having him mention his family half a dozen times, but it never means anything as it’s just a bunch of throwaway lines that don’t have any bearing on what’s going on in the story.  At no point do we see anything from his point of view about how much he really cares for his family and how there’s just no other way to get back to them than to finish this mission, so whether or not he has kids waiting for him back home is utterly meaningless as far as the film cares to frame it.  That and he’s also chock full of generic villain tropes.  He shoots a guy for coughing at one point because reasons, and he also makes a point of physically shoving people around!  Seriously!  There’s a scene where he’s walking with a bunch of people and then he just pushes a dude for no reason!  Oh, well TRULY this is the kind of threat that only Lara Croft can face in a movie that wants to be taken this seriously as a new blockbuster franchise!

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“Good?  Bad?  I’m the guy with the gun.”     “Okay, but TO BE CLEAR; you are the latter.”     “Well that goes without saying.”

There’s not much else to chew on regarding this movie beyond simply being competent and how obnoxiously underwritten the bad guys are.  I think the biggest failing of this movie is that… well, it’s just trying to be as much of a MOVIE as possible.  There’s really no ambition to this beyond trying to repeat the success of other franchises like The Mummy (the Brendan Fraser one) or even The Fast and the Furious, and in doing so decided to not take any risks and not develop an identity of its own.  The same way that a lot of movie based games ended up following a pretty standard formula (third person shooters), this movie follows the standard movie formula to the letter, which is STILL better than the Uwe Boll years or even crap like Assassin’s Creed, but there’s just no inspiration here which makes its two hour run time feel that much more tedious.  Worst of all has to be the franchise teasing at the very end which is bad enough to knock this movie down a few points, but that’s more of a problem that’ll affect the inevitable sequels to this so I’ll be the slightest bit generous here and try to ignore just how blatantly this one aspect is trying to rip off better movies without actually thinking through what doing so would mean for THIS one.  I still haven’t played the reboot from 2013 past the first half hour, so maybe the game itself didn’t have much to offer in terms of cinematic storytelling (this isn’t as GRIM at the very least), but they could have at least TRIED to bring something unique to the table instead of ticking off boxes to ensure that THIS video game movie isn’t another baffling disaster.

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“Is that exactly how it looked in the game?  IT HAS TO LOOK EXACTLY LIKE IT DID IN THE GAME!”

I guess it’s not bad enough that I’d outright say you need to avoid it, but it’s nothing really worth the effort of going to the theater either.  Maybe as a matinee or if you’re a big enough fan of the games it’d be worth checking out, but you can honestly just pass on this until it gets a home release.  It’s worth celebrating that we’re one step closer to having a GENUINE classic film made out of a video game property, and it’s nice that we’re at the point that the steps aren’t painful as much as they are just ho-hum.  We’re still quite a few steps away from whatever standard that gamers have been hoped movies like this would reach for some time (fingers crossed for that Metal Gear Solid movie to be the one to do it; ESPECIALLY since it has the director of Kong: Skull Island behind it!), but at least we’re making progress!

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