Thursday, March 29, 2018

I've Got A Rumbly In My Tombly

Year: 2018
Director: Roar Uthaug 
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Daniel Wu, Walton Goggins
Run Time: 1 hour 58 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

So, video games are here to stay, huh? As the format progresses and games like The Last of Us or Far Cry 4 get more and more cinematic with their gameplay-integrated storytelling, it's no surprise that Hollywood is taking another crack at converting them into movies. Of course, the game they chose is the one where the chick with pointy boobs jumps a whole bunch, but you can't expect them to ever entirely get with the times.

We ran out of Hunger Games movies, so why not?

So, in Tomb Raider, we are introduced once more to Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander, the second Oscar-Winning actress to think it was a great idea to immediately sign onto a Tomb Raider project), the daughter of the prominent businessman Richard Croft (Dominic West). He's in the same business as Bruce Wayne, which is... business. You know, companies and stuff. Look, he's rich, OK? And seven years ago, he disappeared.

While Lara refuses to sign his death notice and thus can't receive her inheritance, she spends her time training in MMA (to what end I don't know, other than that it's fun - she doesn't seem to care about any competitions or anything) and delivering food on her bike. Eventually her dad's executor gives her a frustratingly simple riddle that could be solved by anyone who's read at least one Encyclopedia Brown book, which he hilariously fails to understand. This allows her access to her dad's inner sanctum, where she discovers that in addition to being Bruce Wayne, he's secretly also been Indiana Jones this whole time.

She follows his trail to the island of Yamatai, enlisting Chinese boatsman Lu Res (Daniel Wu) to help her. There, she finds the villainous slave-driver Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), whose employers want him to open the tomb on the island, where a mythical Japanese death queen is supposedly buried, hidden behind protective layers of traps and puzzles. Unfortunately, she has brought her father's research directly into his hands, so it quickly becomes a race against time to prevent him from opening the tomb, oh no!

Spoilers: In Tomb Raider, a tomb gets raided.

Literally the only thing that was exciting to me going into Tomb Raider was that it was the big Hollywood crossover of Norwegian genre director Roar Uthaug. A prominent member of the school of Norway filmmakers who consumed ample amounts of American B-movies, then regurgitated those tropes in a much better way than U.S. filmmakers have been able to do for ages, Uthaug has proved his worth beyond a doubt with the delightful 2006 slasher Cold Prey. He also helmed the 2015 disaster movie The Wave, which I have unfortunately yet to see but have heard good things about.

Unfortunately, the last time this happened, it was with Dead Snow director Tommy Wirkola, and he gave us Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. I personally haven't seen it, so I can't share any opinions (honestly, I feel like I'd love it), but that movie didn't exactly set the world on fire. At least that, as a manic horror-comedy, had a chance to show off the guy's personality. Tomb Raider is the exact sort of carefully shepherded intellectual property that will bury any director worth his salt in an immobilizing mound of script notes. And guess what happened? 

Exactly that. That's what happened.

One thing I can say with respect to my beloved Uthaug is that his action scenes do have a certain zippy energy, especially an early sequence involving an urban bike chase. The second best action sequence involves a rusted-out plane pulling a Lost World by dangling off a cliff, and that scene extends the tension for much longer than should be satisfying without feeling drawn-out or boring, even if it's a bit derivative. The combat scenes suffer a lot from the pulled punches of that toothless, bloodless PG-13 rating, but the adventures sequences are mostly satisfying, even if they have all the emotional resonance of tapping X to double jump.

But yeah, pretty much everything else is as dispiritingly average as it's possible to be. The puzzles are alternately overexplained within an inch of their lives or leave us entirely absent from the solving process (also, maybe if people learned to watch their feet and not step on obvious triggering floor panels, the whole thing could have wrapped up much quicker), the villains' motivations are malnourished, and SPOILERS [the plot introduces a rage zombie plot thread out of nowhere that makes me actively root against Lara Croft, because I would love the sequel to this to be a 28 Days Later movie].

The acting isn't even remarkable, not that it really could be. Vikander does her best, at least anchoring the movie onto what feels like an actual human being and not a pile of 0's and 1's in a tank top. I especially love the way she doesn't play Lara as particularly butch. Her mid-fight screams and grunts are girlish and feminine. She's still tough, but she doesn't have to be so in a traditionally masculine milieu

As for the rest of the ensemble... I love Walton Goggins, but he gets nothing to do here except glare directly at the camera. Plus, I could never really get a bead on what Daniel Wu was doing. And just when I was starting to get familiar with his sort of peculiar characterization, he starts to vanish from the film for twenty minutes at a time so more white people can step on floor panels like f**king idiots. Honestly, the entire film is stolen by a not-especially-hilarious cameo from Nick Frost that is still far and away the best thing in the movie.

That's not where you really want to be with your Hollywood blockbuster, but at least it's not soul-suckingly terrible, because we all know the way most video game adaptations swing. Unfortunately, there's absolutely no reason to see this movie. Though, if you do get dragged to it, you won't suffer. It's just utterly milquetoast, and slides right through the back of your head the millisecond it enters your eyes.

TL;DR: Tomb Raider is a thoroughly generic bit of popcorn cinema fare, and my affection for the director doesn't change how unimpressive it is.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1065

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