Thursday, March 15, 2018

Review: "Tomb Raider"

 I hadn't even seen "Tomb Raider" yet and I was already sick of hearing about it.

How they translated the video game series into a rebooted film franchise for a new generation. About all the nifty stunts and set pieces. How tiny Swedish star Alicia Vikander worked out for months and subsisted on one of those fish-avocados-and-eggs diets in order to bulk up and get the prerequisite bumpy belly.

(I really don't know when in our popular culture bumpy bellies became a thing. It used to be you wanted to look trim and tight. Now we're supposed to want our stomachs to look rippled potato chips. Seems like a screwy contradiction, if you ask me.)

As a ciswhiteoldishmale, I've been reliably instructed that I'm not allowed to comment on women's bodies. Nuts to that. If you make a big-budget movie based on a game whose major appeal was a heroine who looked like a Victoria's Secret model, then her appearance is well within the bounds of discussion -- especially when it impacts how the film plays.

This is decidedly different take on Lara Croft than the Angelina Jolie movie from 2001. Say what you will about that movie, but Jolie seemed more than physically capable. Could take it, and dish it out, like any male action hero counterpart. In a word, she was tough.

Vikander, in a word, is frail. Even with the aforementioned buffing-up, her look is still more ballerina than badass. Her Lara gets her ass kicked a lot in the movie, almost entirely by male combatants (with the exception of a female sparring partner near the beginning, who also wipes the floor with her). And she emits a lot of girlish squeaks and dainty yelps in the process.

So it's a much more vulnerable version of the character. I guess the idea for director Roar Uthaug and screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons was to have Lara more relatable. But the overall effect is to make her come across as weak.

Arriving in the footsteps of the physically and thematically muscular "Wonder Woman," this feels like something of a retreat.

Lara isn't even a real adventurer as the story opens, just an orphaned young woman working as a bicycle courier and doing a little kickboxing on the side. She's a sadgirl because her beloved daddy (Dominic West) disappeared mysteriously seven years ago, leaving her with regrets -- along with a massive fortune and estate, if only she'll sign the papers declaring him legally dead.

This she has refused to do, because... well, there is no good reason. Only movie people would toil, unable to even pay their gym fees, when there's billions at your beckoning.

Anyway, she discovers that father was secretly an Indiana Jones-type archeologist. When he went missing, he was working on the mystery of an ancient Japanese queen named Himiko, a sorceress who could kill with just a touch. Her tomb is shrouded in secrecy on a mystery island, and the elder Croft was trying to prevent an evil group called the Order of Trinity from finding it and exploiting her wretched powers.

In his death decree, daddy Croft instructs Lara to destroy all his research so as not to endanger the fate of the entire world. Instead, she carefully gathers it all up and books a ship so she can sail to the island and deliver it right to the bad guys.

This Lara Croft may be tight in the abs, but she's soft in the head.

Walton Goggins plays Vogel, the heavy leading a force of mercenaries and slave labor on the island. Unable to escape himself until he's completed his mission, Vogel stumbles about in a fog, occasionally shooting someone to make a point. Daniel Wu plays Lu Ren, the helpful ship captain who becomes Lara's henchman.

"Tomb Raider" is a decently entertaining movie, especially in the second half as they make their way into the tomb and encounter all sorts of nasty traps, tricks and puzzles. I never played any of the video games, but those who have tell me the film's plot follows the recent reboot of the game fairly faithfully.

I especially liked one river-born sequence, where Lara is in danger of being swept over a massive waterfall, and uses the carcass of a rotted B-17 bomber as her (rapidly deteriorating) lifeline.

I'm not sure we needed a wimpier version of Lara Croft, or indeed if we needed another film version of the video game at all. Energetic but unnecessary, it sits there like a giant meatball, simply existing.

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