To this very day, I believe that 1995’s “Mortal Kombat” is the best movie adapted from a video game. I’m not saying the movie is a masterpiece of cinema, I’m just saying that when it comes to video game movies, it’s the best one made thus far. It’s not for a lack of trying, but frankly, I blame the creative teams behind the movies. Video games all have cut scenes to them these days, just copy and paste from those! But no, every producer, writer, or director have to put their own spin on things. That being said, does this third adaptation of the adventures of Lara Croft end the curse of bad movies based on video games? The answer is …. not really, no.
For those of you who aren’t gamers, or you’ve been living under a rock for the past two decades, Tomb Raider is a series of video games featuring Lara Croft. The best way to describe her is that she’s what would happen of Indiana Jones and James Bond merged into one being, and that being was a drop dead gorgeous woman. She’s filthy rich, but she goes on quests for priceless artifacts anyway. Originally, she would run and gun her way through jungle temples, looking like a fashion model. Angelina Jolie played Miss Croft in two previous movies based on these games, and much like the games, they were very tongue in cheek. Then in 2013, Lara was given a more realistic reboot, in the vein of “Batman Begins”. Rather than being all “I’m a top model who can go on adventures, kill all the bad guys, and still come out looking ready for a my next photoshoot”, Lara became more “I still look like a top model, but now I get beat up during my adventures, and have “battle damage” on me in the end, so it actually looks like I’ve been through some serious sh*t”. This movie is based on the latter version of the character.
The director of this flick is Roar Uthaug. Yes, you read that correctly, someone named their son Roar, probably because they couldn’t think of anything more manly than that. In the tradition of Angelina Jolie, Lara is being played by another stunningly beautiful, Oscar-winning actress, Alicia Vikander, whom I loved and adored in “Ex Machina”. And man, oh man, did Vikander get fit for this role. Toned arms, back, and shoulders, as every action movie heroine should have. Bless her personal trainer, who should be hired for each and every action movie that has a female lead! And yes, there is a scene in the very beginning of the movie in which we get to see Alicia’s eight-pack abs, and they are glorious! Now if only another female led movie series would take note and have their star show her abs after all the work she puts in at the gym (*cough*Daisy Ridley*cough*). I know at this point it sounds like I’m gushing over Vikander, and there’s a reason for that. It’s because she’s really the only reason to see this movie.
By no means is the movie bad, it’s just that it’s so underwhelming. The story begins with Lara trying to be an everyday, college aged girl in London, not wanting to sign legal papers that confirm that her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), is dead, and all power from his company is transferred to her. She remains in denial that he is indeed dead, after he left on a quest for the Tomb of Himiko seven years prior. The Tomb houses the corpse of Queen Himiko of Yamatai, who had the ability to kill anyone she touched with her hands, at least according to legend. Lara solves one of her father’s old puzzles, and it results with her finding a hidden location where he kept all his life’s research (super convenient, I know). With this new information, Lara goes to find her father, with the help of Lu Wen (Daniel Wu, of TV’s “Into The Badlands” fame). But Lara is confronted by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), who is also searching for the Tomb, on behalf of a shadowy organization known as Trinity.
As I mentioned, the reboot of the Tomb Raider series was more realistic, and this movie follows that example. Lara is put through the ringer, getting bruised, beaten, blooded, and dirty, as she fights her way through the jungle. I must say, it is refreshing to see the heroine taking damage and having to recover from everything she’s going through, rather than shaking off the pain and going on as if nothing happened. Vikander is very charismatic as Lara, as starts off as that cool girl that hangs out with all the guys, but evolves into the booty-kicker that we all know her to be in the games. Unfortunately, Vikander’s performance and the gritty realism to the action aside, the movie as a whole doesn’t work. And for the most part, I blame the lackluster script. The plot is very paint by number, and the dialogue is as bland as boiled cabbage.
Other than Vikander, Dominic West is the second best performance of the movie. It’s like no matter what subpar material he is given to work with, he finds a way to get the most out of it (like in every movie he appears in). Walton Goggins is nothing special as the main villain. He’s about as one dimensional as villains come, which is a pity, since we know he can seriously bring it, as he has in other movies like “Django Unchained” and “The Hateful Eight”. And poor Daniel Wu is just along for the ride, and isn’t given much to do once they arrive on the island. Oh, and Nick Frost makes two small appearances. Much like his real life best friend, Simon Pegg, it never hurts to have some Nick Frost in your movie.
While the action sequences are thrilling, and many are copied directly from the 2013 game, the rest of the movie feels like the creative team watched “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “The Last Crusade”, and thought “Meh, let’s just steal from these, since they’re so good. We might as well steal from the best.” Yes, the movie takes the whole “Indiana Jones, but a woman” thing way too literally in some scenes. In the end, the movie has this “what a twist” moment, that is blatant set-up for a squeal that might not even happen. And worst yet, the movie’s very last scene was revealed in the trailers, and if you have seen the trailers, yes, it is the very scene that you’re thinking of.
I really wanted to like this movie, but I ended up only enjoying the sum of its parts, rather than it as a whole. Vikander is great as an action heroine, and the action sequences were satisfying. But I’ve seen countless other movies where these plot points have been done time and time again. As the end credits rolled, it felt more like I watched a two hour long ad for another movie, one that might not be made, if you look at the disappointing box office numbers. “Tomb Raider” gets a mediocre 2 out of 5 stars. It doesn’t break the curse of bad video game movies, but it’s not unwatchable either. If you want to see a breezy jungle adventure, with a strong and beautiful female lead … you should probably watch “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” instead. But if you MUST see this movie, I can only recommend it at matinee prices, or as a DVD rental. Now, after all that talk about video game movies, I have a sudden urge to watch “Mortal Kombat” again. That movie is so much fun!