After Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, pulling off the archaeological action hero is no easy feat. Few have come close to achieving its greatness. Perhaps the only move that comes to mind that tried to reach the sun and almost touched it is The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser. That’s probably why the genre has remained mostly untouched for the last few decades. The old Tomb Raider movies starring Angelina Jolie are a total joke, more interested in selling video games and sex appeal than an actual good movie.
This time around, Tomb Raider starring Alicia Vikander actually tries to make a good movie, casting aside the old gimmicks for something gritty, realistic, and focused primarily on survival and adventure. It largely succeeds in this, presenting a wild, action-packed adventure with few dull moments. But, for all its high octane thrills, it suffers from awful writing that veers off into the rote, the cheesy, the derivative, and the shockingly contradictory. Alicia Vikander and Walter Goggins try to keep the ship afloat with their performances but it’s not enough. In the end, Tomb Raider widely falls short and joins the overcrowded halls of bad video game movies.
When her wealthy and adventurous father disappeared, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) became an independent orphan trying to get by on her own rather than his wealth. However, after getting into trouble, she seeks the help of her guardian, Ana Miller, and succumbs to finally taking on her inheritance. Eventually, Croft discovers clues to her father’s whereabouts and decides to go try to find out what happened to him, resulting in a wild adventure and a fight for survival.
Again, if you’re looking for action and adventure, Tomb Raider doesn’t hold back. From the very beginning, Croft is a thrill seeker. Whether racing through London on her bicycle, fleeing thieves or taking out bad guys with her bow, she doesn’t shy away from controversy. The special effects mostly deliver. Only a few times do they slide into noticeable territory and even then the suspense distracts from potentially cheesy effects.
It’s clear Alicia Vikander can hold her own as both a lead actress and action hero. While she’s not exactly given great material to work with, she does what she can with it. Her performance largely keeps the story interesting and compelling. At almost every turn her character faces some intense setbacks and she sells the conflict, the tragedy, and the tension at each point. Much of it harkens back to Die Hard as a down and out hero struggling to just stay alive from bullets, roaring rivers, and collapsing airplanes wreckage. It takes a lot to make a character suffering so much pain be both empathetic and light-hearted, but she does it well.
Walter Goggins plays the villainous Mathias Vogel. Likewise, Goggins does what he can with a character that at first glance could have been a great villain but ended up disappointing. Goggins performance in The Hateful Eight really showcased an actor with a tremendous amount of range. So, his high-caliber performance as Vogel isn’t entirely surprising. He sells the intimidation factor of being a brutal killer and also the motivation of being a father trying to get back to his family.
Movies live or die off of the screenplay. If the writing is bad, the movie is going to be bad. And, Tomb Raider’s writing is laughably bad. At first glance, the writing appears to be doing all the right things. It sets up Croft’s character as an already adventurous, skilled, and capable person. It sets up her relationship with her father. It sets up a motivation to find him. It also gives the villain an actual motivation.
Too often villains are hollow with not much driving them. For Vogel, he’s stuck on an island, trying to complete a job so he can get back to his kids. Everyone can understand that kind of a motivation. It makes him more understandable and even more interesting because of it. But, by the end of the movie, this motivation ends up backfiring on the story and creates a major plot hole (If I say anything else, it’ll put us in spoiler territory. So I’ll stop there).
The villain falling apart is reminiscent of the entire movie. Instead of a nicely flowing narrative, the pacing becomes rote and stunted, not allowing for characters and the story to breathe. You could easily see the screenwriters outline. Now we’ll do an action scene, now a dialogue scene, now an action scene, now a struggle for survival scene, now an action scene. Rarely do scenes just live a little or let the characters get to know each other better. It’s robotic and mechanical nature takes you out of the story.
For a story trying to be gritty and realistic, Tomb Raider oddly throws around cheesy lines, lazy dialogue, and silly antics. At one point a character growls, “Never!” like they were in a melodramatic third-grade play. And that’s only one example. There’s a slew of bizarre and out of place scenes and dialogue.
But of all the bad writing, the derivative storytelling is the most shameful. The last part of the second act and the entire third act is virtually a rip-off of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. One scene, and its dialogue, is beat for beat the same. It’s seriously pathetic and lazy how the screenwriter didn’t even try to hide it or do something entirely different. It’s one thing to have a few homages to the greatness of Indiana Jones but quite another to just rip the pages right out of the movie.
Actions sequences and good performances can only do so much to make a movie shine. If the core structure and writing isn’t any good, then the movie eventually is going to sink. Tomb Raider, in this case, is a ship full of holes, quickly sinking into the ocean and never reaching its destination. For those wanting an action-adventure movie, you might find something to enjoy with this film, but don’t expect the writing to be any good and don’t expect this movie to break the curse of the awful video game movie.
Photos courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures.
Tomb Raider has fun action and adventure sequences and can boast solid performances from Alicia Vikander and Walter Goggins, but at the end of the day, the terrible writing sinks the ship.