Tomb Raider (2018) by Roar Uthaug
Review by Lydia Creech
All I knew about the new Tomb Raider going in was jokes on Twitter of that dude getting rightfully dragged for complaining about the size of Alicia Vikander’s chest, which, true, not the most auspicious starting place, but also probably did the most on selling me to go see it (This mostly says a lot about me).
I do think it’s worth pointing out that the franchise’s origins and history of the character of Laura Croft read as a male fantasy, as opposed to that of a feminist icon. That’s not to say that women didn’t or can’t find Laura Croft empowering and cool--I’d say women have a lot of practice at finding/reclaiming representation where we can get it--but also, jeez, it’s so much work to ignore the troubling aspects just to identify with a character pretty blatantly designed with another gaze in mind. The reboot of the game in 2013 leaned away from that in favor of a more realistic, athletic build, fit for a raider of tombs, if you will. The film models itself after this reboot and functions as an origin story (and hopefully first in a new series), which goes a long way for making Laura feel like the badass adventurer, relatable character we all deserve. I mean all the we--men and women and everybody.
Oddly enough, this is the second movie I’ve seen in a week about daughters having to go rescue their foolish (scientist/explorer/whatever) dads who got into something way over their heads. In this case, it’s something called Himiko, a Japanese witch? demon? queen? who, the tales say, spreads death and destruction wherever she went and was finally buried on some remote, uninhabited island. Tomb Raider fits in nicely with action-adventure films like Indiana Jones or The Mummy where the there is some Mcguffin that’s valuable and ancient, maaaaaaybe supernatural, definitely dangerous, and this other group of people want it to do dastardly deeds with. I can’t help but feel like if dads (dudes) would just leave stuff well-enough-alone, evil corporations wouldn’t even have a chance to do their Big Bad Plan, but that’s just my opinion.
Since this is Laura’s first adventure, we’re invited to grow with her as she discovers that she’s braver, smarter, more resourceful than she ever knew she could be, which is kind of a nice “everyman” sort of plot. We get to watch her kill someone for the first time, which is pretty upsetting for everyone involved (she gets over it quick and goes to town with the bow and arrows later, though). My point is, Tomb Raider is about watching Laura become the competent archaeologist adventurer people claim she is, with struggles and trauma, rather than a vessel springing fully formed yet empty enough to project desire onto.
There are definitely setpieces and sequences that feel lifted out of video game mechanics--like, oh, this is the part where you’d have to solve a puzzle or be sneaky or do a fight--but, as a video game adaptation movie, that’s not necessarily a bad thing as an aesthetic choice. Lots of game adaptations have fared far worse with critics for their clunkiness in translating the gameplay aspects into integrated narrative beats. I wonder if the fact that the Tomb Raider games relied so heavily on cinematic influences (like the aforementioned Indiana Jones and Mummy franchises) made translating it back to movies easier.
Overall, Tomb Raider is not a bad effort both in terms of feeling like an actual movie (with an actual movie star doing a damn good job, obviously, on which her cup size has no bearing. Obviously.) and in updating Laura Croft as a character. Now that movie audiences have been (re)introduced to her, it’s clear that the studio is angling for a sequel, what with a bunch of set-up at the end of this one. I’d be interested to see where the franchise takes her, and if it can continue its trajectory of pissing dumb dudes on the internet off, which is probably a sign you’re doing something right.