What has the world done to you Lara? I remember paying some of one of the PS1 games as a child, I think it belonged to the boy down the bottom of the garden. It felt good, a game where you were the girl, there’s something to that. You read the history of the design and look at the marketing materials and the cynicism of the ploy is laid pretty bare. I guess the games were good enough and gamers were trash enough that it was just let slide for a neat decade.
It is telling in a way that when the old image was finally put to rest, the reinvention internalised that cynicism. A form of defence maybe against a shitty misogynist audience. What had been projected upon her in the past must be thoroughly demolished if there was to be any chance of this radical reinvention being a success. Therefore the new Lara Croft is not a character defined by what she is, but instead what she isn’t. Her reason for being, a halfhearted apology for the way someone else chose to depict the way she was before.
We open on Alicia Vikander as Lara working out in a boxing gym before working at some knock off fast food bike courier service. She’s struggling to get by because of her rejection of the family’s wealth and position. I guess they want her to be relatable as well as untouchable, she’s told by her coworkers that she’s too smart and talented to be working in that job, but this Lara is fine where she is. Is this a rejection of the privilege of the previous incarnation? or is she cursed with that most millennial of diseases, complacency?
If you’re wondering the precise genre of male that will kick her off her perch and hasten her transformation into the Tomb Raider, it’s her father. Missing, presumed dead, after he left in mysterious circumstances while she was a child. His final request to her in his will is that she destroy his work. She decides instead to follow the treasure map he made, hoping that she may yet find him alive.
The ghost of Richard Croft, played by Dominic West, looms large over proceedings. He seems to be the deterministic force in his daughter’s life. When in a superfluous bicycle chase scene near the start she sees a man who looks like him and that omen, such as it is, destroys her. As we journey through the story with her, we see that Croft believes her to be in some sense incapable without him. Every memory is one in which he gives her the tools to overcome the present situation. His ever present air of paternalism exhibits an almost supernatural grasp on her.
Not that the film would put it that way. It is super averse to the concept of magical thinking, another rejection of the past with its illuminatuses and spiritual ancient artefacts. Her search leads her to Hong Kong, where she is promptly robbed by a gang of street thieves. She hires the son of the man who lost his father on the same expedition that doomed hers to set sail for the same island. They of course shipwreck themselves in the same way that their parents did.
The film feels pretty formless in this way, we pace sluggishly from setpiece to setpiece which themselves aren’t constructed with enough care and interest to feel like a moment of revelation. They’re are never really plot related anyway, the bike chase, the shipwreck, a later piece of business with a plane on the edge of the waterfall. They’re all punctuation, a short respite from the dull grind of these character’s uninteresting story.
Which is silly in a way because punctuation is entirely what these action sequences lack. They’re so muddied and muddled and overshot and overedited. Take a sequence which begins with Lara’s hands bound, about half way through she sees a jagged edge that she can cut the rope with. She decides to stop, in the middle of an extremely precarious position to get herself free. The tension should be rising, did she make the right decision? Will she be able to get free before disaster? In reality it takes something like ten seconds and five cuts.
Action can’t be felt without fury and life and stakes. But this flick finds none of those. Walton Goggins’ overly declarative bad-man has the benefit of being played by Walton Goggins, but when half his scenes are made up of grousing about the wife and children he don’t get to see in order to give his character some sort of misguided depth, he just wasted.
Everyone in this film is wasted. Vikander is stuck halfway between being able to be human, like after she first gets her first kill and is shaken and upset by it, and being Lara Croft sniping twenty guys with her bow and arrow. West has to get by looking patrician, until it’s discovered he’s alive (shut up) and he has to do the Cast Away act for a fun five minutes before becoming a whole man again. All these characters have their momentary breaks, Daniel Wu turns up as the alcoholic captain of the ship, only to sober up almost immediately. Then he disappears. What a waste.
Whatever, after a pretty torturous hour we make it into a tomb. From that point on the flick is a dull humourless slog. It has no new ideas, nothing revealing, nothing awesome or true. If it weren’t for Goggins’ delivery of the line ‘We’re running out of floor’, appealing only for its pure absurdity, it would be the worst part of the film.
As it stands the worst part of the film is the twist ending. You know a twist ending is inane when the film is forced to cut back to every moment that telegraphed it in order to land. This one invents a few more too and even then you fail to care. It’s like the hook that they put on the end of a TV show pilot episode because they know that everything that comes after will necessitate a lower budget. Maybe a cheaper Tomb Raider would be better. I’d just settle for one less boring.
Tomb Raider is currently screening in UK cinemas.