"Tomb Raider" boasts strong lead but is let down behind the camera
Going back to the roots of a famous character is Hollywood’s bread and butter in 2018. The Marvel Cinematic Universe didn’t invent the origin story, hell, it was already nearly perfected by the time “Iron Man” blasted into theaters in 2008. But if “Tomb Raider” proved anything, it’s that the origin story is one nut that’s tough to crack.
While Alicia Vikander proved up to the task of bringing Lara Croft to the big screen, none of the credited writers, nor director Roar Uthaug (“The Wave”) did their homework. Perhaps that’s because a great origin story requires more than a great hero or heroine — if needs a terrific supporting cast, something “Tomb Raider” sorely lacks.
The film ostensibly rests (is cradled by? Too much?) the father-daughter relationship of Lara and Richard Croft, to the point that “Tomb Raider” opens with a monologue from Dominic West. That’s a strong narrative decision, but it’s undercut, as much of the film is, by a flimsy screenplay. That’s a recurring problem in the film, from every conversation between father and daughter, to Walton Goggins monosyllablic bad guy, to Daniel Wu’s underserved sidekick.
There’s just nothing here to fill in the gaps of Lara’s character. That’s a huge problem in a film that’s supposed to be all about those gaps. It wouldn’t really matter so much that these characters are window dressing to Lara’s badass if she was already the Croft we expect her to be — but she’s not. In fact, she’s not all that heroic at times, which is, I think, the point of the film.
At times that works, thanks to Vikander’s wry smile and good humor. She’s a great choice for the part, and with a better writer and director this might be a better movie. From a plot standpoint, it’s easy to see why this film got put into production with a nearly $100-million budget. But there are puzzling decisions made with Lara’s character that undercut the overall objective of the film.
If the goal is to present Lara as a novice adventurer, fair enough; but we’re to believe someone overwhelmingly intelligent flew across the world without enough linguistic ability to ask how to find the only person she needed to find? After presenting Lara as a street-smart, bike-riding, kickboxer earlier in the film, it seems odd to suddenly portray her as so naive. That inconsistency doesn’t work when the film is all about setting the tone for a character.
And this is where the supporting cast comes into play. Think of the best origin story you’ve seen and odds are it features a great supporting cast. That’s because the star of the show leans on those characters and grows from them in meaningful ways. In “Tomb Raider,” Lara’s conversations and interactions with her father never reach those heights because the script doesn’t allow them to — and that’s a shame. A movie that wanted to be “The Last Crusade” was let down by the writer’s room.
That shouldn’t be reason to abandon ship. There’s enough good in the film to press on with Vikander and try again — this time with a better script and a better director. Mediocre men get a thousand chances in Hollywood. A franchise with an incredibly talented woman as its face should get at least one more.