tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Tomb Raider’ Keeps the Focus on the Action

This reboot has a plot that doesn’t make much sense, but it makes up for it through sheer velocity.

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Tomb Raider casts Alicia Vikander in the role of video game icon Lara Croft. The movie follows the character seven years after the disappearance of her father Richard (Dominic West). She has been refusing to legally acknowledge his death, and has thus been deprived of an inheritance. But she ends up receiving one last message from her father, which leads her on a journey to an uninhabited island in the middle of the Pacific, which might have been his final destination. And there she discovers the truth about her father’s disappearance, as well the existence of a mysterious organization that seeks to use relics as weapons.

One thing is very clear right from the start: very little in this movie makes sense. The only thing consistent about these characters is that they’re prone to making irrational choices. But it’s clear that the film knows it, too, and it seems to acknowledge that nobody is going into the theater looking for an intricate narrative. So it just keeps pushing out the exposition as fast as it can, leaving more time for the kind of real fun the film can deliver: scenes of its heroine running through jungles, falling into all manner of ridiculous peril, and somehow powering her way out of it.

That’s really all there is to this movie. More often than not, Lara Croft finds her hanging over some impossibly high structure that’s falling apart, and she has to pull herself up. This hanging portion is almost always the climax of some other bit of action: chasing after some thugs, running away from thugs, or narrowly avoiding death by trap. Whatever the case may be, Lara Croft will perform an intensely strenuous pull-up and narrowly save herself from falling into some bottomless pit. And often, it’s just a brief moment of respite before having the rug pulled out from under her and having to rescue herself again.

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So while the film is full of characters that make irrational decisions, and sequences that don’t have a coherent timeline, it’s all in service of delivering the kind of visceral thrills available in the video game, particularly the 2013 reboot that this whole thing is somewhat based on. Like the best bits of the game, it at times feels like Lara Croft is being put through a Rube Goldberg machine of peril, with one bit of danger just leading straight into the next. And this is pretty fun.

Alicia Vikander is also a real strength of the film. It’s clear that she put herself some intense physical training for this film, and it really pays off. She is absolutely convincing in these action sequences, whether she’s grappling with a thug, or trying to pull herself up on to a rusted out airplane wing. And there are even a couple of dramatic moments that Vikander pulls off with aplomb. The supporting roles aren’t written deeply enough for anyone to do anything particularly interesting, but given that, Walton Goggins and Dominic West pull off these archetypes pretty perfectly.

Tomb Raider is a film that keeps it pretty simple. It knows that it can’t get tangled up in an intricate plot, so it just delivers its exposition as quickly as possible, almost shrugging it off as just something it needs to get through. And then it just goes, sending its hero hurtling through a jungle, making it clear that she’s capable but still vulnerable, a fish out of water slowly getting used to her new reality. And she takes on all these challenges, and through sheer strength and determination, she comes out on the other side. The movie could be a lot smarter, but there is value to its velocity.

Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
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