Netflix UK film review: Tomb Raider
Ivan Radford | On 02, Aug 2018Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Roar Urthaug
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins
Watch Tomb Raider online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Super Mario Bros. Mortal Kombat. Wing Commander. Need for Speed. Assassin’s Creed. The list of bad video game movies goes on for longer than Rainbow Road on Mario Kart 64. Regardless of the names in front of the camera (Bob Hoskins! Michael Fassbender!) and the filmmakers behind (Justin Kurzel), turning a story from a game into a film is almost always destined for mediocrity at best and tripe at worse. The prospect of Lara Croft, one of the longest running franchises, coming to the big screen, then, could be understandably met with a degree of skepticism. After all, we’ve already had two of them, courtesy of Angelina Jolie’s mostly unmemorable turn in the iconic heroine’s tank top and shorts.
But Tomb Raider 2.0 arrives in the wake of the video game’s own adaptation for the modern age to give us a less gun-toting, more realistic protagonist. And the film’s success lies in taking a leaf from that book. When we first meet Lara, she’s your typical young adult trying to earn a living by cycling meals about town, whose instinct for self-preservation and physical agility is showcased not by leaping from canyons, but by out-racing a group of bikers across town in a novelty, fox-tailed hunt.
The whole thing is similarly grounded in the everyday; when she does head overseas, it’s not for globe-trotting adventure, but because she’s unearthed a clue about the location of her father, Richard (Dominic West), who went missing years ago. He, naturally, may or may not be on a secret, mystical island – and that island may or may not contain a secret, mystical tomb, which, in turn, may or may not house some secret, mystical treasure. And that treasure, it goes without saying, may or may not carry a secret, mystical hex.
Curse. Check. Gold. Check. Exotic landscape. Check. Sinister organisation looking to beat Lara to the goods? Check. It’s once we’re in such territory that the film starts to struggle, not because of its source material, but because the Indiana Jones films (and The Mummy films – the first two, anyway) have already harnessed the tropes of matinee adventure movies for impeccable blockbusting entertainment. Tomb Raider doesn’t live up to them, because not much can, but it does turn a familiar string of running, jumping and grappling challenges into a slickly assembled series of stunts and set pieces.
Director Roar Urthaug, who impressed with Norwegian disaster movie The Wave, has a decent grasp of spectacle and peril – something that really shines in the less conventional sequences, such as the opening London bike chase and a fight across the middle of a Hong Kong harbour. Alicia Vikander steps into the role of derring-doer with aplomb. She doesn’t have the towering presence of, say, Gina Carano, but that’s what makes this Lara so compelling to watch; she’s human as well as super-human, as vulnerable and prone to injury as the next person, and as reliant on her wits as her fighting and archery skills.
Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons’ script commendably does its best to give her some depth, doubling down on the father-daughter relationship to fuel both Croft Jr’s independent streak and her thirst for foreign climes. It’s the lack of a powerful antagonist, though, that perhaps stops her bursting into life, as Walton Goggins makes the most of an underwritten villain. So Vikander instead seizes opportunities for humour (particularly when she jokes with Nick Frost’s local fence and weapons provider) to bring colour to her Croft. It’s credit to Vikander that she succeeds, ultimately overcoming that most perilous of threats in her character-driven quest: lacklustre dialogue. The by-the-numbers final act isn’t on a par with even Temple of Doom, but this is a fun, fast-paced start to leaner, keener franchise that sets a solid groundwork for sequels to come. The list of enjoyable video game movies just got its first entry.
Tomb Raider (2018) is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.