Review: Tomb Raider (2018)



Alicia Vikander manages to shine in a film that amounts to a stealth remake of Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade at its best moments.

Back in the early days of premium console gaming, one of the early video game obsessions was Eidos’ Tomb Raider, a video game that was basically Indiana Jones with a hot adventuring female named Lara Croft as the lead instead of a scoundrel-cum-part-time-archaeologist. Throughout the history of video gaming, many of the most popular video games made have essentially been playable versions of popular movies. Contra is Aliens vs. Rambo and Commando; Metroid is Alien, Mortal Kombat is Bloodsport by way of Enter the Dragon, and Tomb Raider is Indiana Jones and his various sequels. It is with this thinking in mind that one should approach Tomb Raider (2018), a reboot of the Lara Croft Tomb Raider franchise that follows in the footsteps of the 2013 video game reboot by Square Enix of the video game franchise. Most of us are familiar with the 2 Angelina Jolie starring Tomb Raider films of the early 2000’s (Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life); that Lara Croft was a rich aristocrat who plundered tombs for fun and profit in between trysts and training sessions with robot sentries, not unlike a pre Daniel Craig 007. Indeed, much like the Broccolli’s decided 007 needed a more grounded reboot in the past decade, Square Enix, the new owners of the Tomb Raider IP, decided a new Lara Croft was needed to refresh the character and franchise for a new generation. This Lara Croft was a younger girl, not so impossibly endowed, but one full of grit and determination that hewed much closer to its Indiana Jones roots.

Alicia Vikander plays Lara as a bike courier living on the cheap in London. As we comes to find, this Lara is living on the down low to avoid signing a declaration that her father Lord Croft (Dominic West of 300 and The Wire) has died at sea. The two were exceptionally close and its only after taking her inheritance that she finds her father was living a Bruce Wayne-esque double life complete with a hidden Batcave of sorts. Here, Lara finds her father has never recovered from her mother’s death and has become obsessed with finding a mythical Japanese island called Yamatai where a death queen called Himiko might hold a respite from death and a means of attaining immortality, Croft journeys to Hong Kong to find a man named Lu Ren, whom her father contracted to taker him to Yamatai. She instead finds his namesake heir (Daniel Wu) whom she convinces to sail to Yamatai to find out what happened to both of their fathers, only for them to end up shipwrecked on the island and its only then that their shared adventure really begins.

The film is loosely based on the plot and setting of the 2013 reboot, but for the most part, it liberally cribs from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade wholesale for most of its plot and dynamics. Himiko becomes the Holy Grail and Lara’s relationship with her father is analogous to that between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery in the 1989 film, down to “Grail Diary” and Walton Goggins’ mercenary character Vogel is almost a direct analogy to Julian Glover’s Walter Donovan in Last Crusade. This structure and set-up works for the most part and while it makes the film deeply derivative to Spielberg’s trilogy finale, its derivative much in the same way the original game is derivative of the Indiana Jones franchise. Vikander infects the film with life and has movie star charisma that largely carries the film while she is on screen. Its the scenes in Himiko’s Tomb and the CGI intensive storm sequence that make the film drag; the smaller moments really work as does her chemistry with Wu. Goggins plays a compelling villain and his nuanced portrayal helps the film rise above most video game movie dreck. That being said, it does hew much closer to being a Vin Diesel xXx/Last Witch Hunter style franchise than it does at being the next Indiana Jones.

Tomb Raider is popcorn movie in the truest sense; while you’re on the ride its fun, just try not to dissect it too liberally and it works on the same level that a Suicide Squad or Fast and the Furious do, a welcome distraction from reality for a few hours. Shut your brain off and enjoy your Indiana Jones-lite and tell your friends after you’ve got an Indy marathon to catch them up on next time you’re at home.