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Dustin Putman

Tomb Raider  (2018)
2½ Stars
Directed by Roar Uthaug.
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Alexandre Willaume, Nick Frost, Jaime Winstone, Emily Carey, Maisy De Freitas, Hannah John-Kamen, Antonio Aakeel, Michael Obiora.
2018 – 118 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for violence and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman for, March 14, 2018.
A destined franchise-starter headlined by a particularly fierce Alicia Vikander (2016's "Jason Bourne"), 2018's "Tomb Raider" reboot holds substantially more heart and seat-clinging thrills than its Angelina Jolie-starring predecessors, 2001's terminally dull "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" and 2003's goofily diverting but forgettable "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider—The Cradle of Life." Directed by Roar Uthaug (2016's "The Wave") and written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet & Alastair Siddons, the film—an adaptation of the long-running video game series—takes a standard "Indiana Jones"-esque adventure plot and proceeds to hang upon it a succession of commanding, occasionally stomach-dropping circumstances.

Seven years ago, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) left on a business trip and mysteriously vanished. His daughter, the now-grown Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), has continued to cling to the possibility that he may one day return. When Richard's business partner Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas) tells her she must finally claim her inheritance or risk having it sold off, it is the catalyst for an eye-opening discovery about her father's true adventurous spirit and the dangerous mission which led to his disappearance. It seems he had traveled to the remote Japanese island of Yamatai where Himiko, an ancient queen with the alleged power to control life and death through her very touch, is entombed. Disregarding a recorded message she finds among Richard's belongings urging her to destroy his research lest it fall into the wrong hands, she sets off for Yamatai in hopes of completing the work her father started.

"Tomb Raider" isn't the kind of film that permeates in one's memory after it's over, but it is a fair amount of fun while it plays out. The plot is silly but engaging in a high-flying 1940s-serial sort of way, while character development is threadbare but at least clearer than it was in the original pictures from the early-2000s. Over two movies, Angelina Jolie's version of Lara Croft remained a cipher, someone who whiled away her hours clanking around her deceased father's mansion when she wasn't globe-trotting to save the world. She was abrasively, unapologetically hard-as-nails and, thus, tough to warm up to. By comparison, Alicia Vikander's Lara is independent and free-spirited, someone who has foregone her family's money for as long as possible in order to prove to herself she can make it on her own. She is immediately more admirable and a whole lot pluckier because of this, someone who can still stand up for herself in a fight but has tinges of relatable vulnerability to counteract it. Vikander is wonderful in a physically demanding role that puts her through approximately ten wringers.

The appeal for most viewers will be in how much excitement the film provides (the answer: quite a lot). It is difficult not to think of 2012's "Life of Pi" during a similar stormy shipwreck sequence, but it is technically impressive all the same. Even better is an enthralling, well-shot early chase along the Hong Kong waterway when Lara's bag is stolen by thieves. The standout set-piece, however, traces Lara's attempted escape from the clutches of murderously greedy archaeologist Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), sending her through the jungle, down a rushing rapids, and trapped atop an airplane carcass perched precariously over a waterfall. It is a tremendous 10-minute segment that leaves one's nerves rattled in the best way. The third act is best left for the viewer to discover, but it successfully twists expectations while devising a handful of imaginatively hairy situations. It doesn't hurt that the film lives up to its name, culminating in a socko raiding of a tomb.

"Tomb Raider" is thematically barebones and doesn't always hold up to close scrutiny, but who needs to scrutinize over a potentially supernatural action-adventure about saving the world from a plague brought on by a corpsy queen? A little more irksome are certain logistical holes, such as why Lara would need to pawn off her beloved father's valuable pendant to earn money when two scenes earlier she was literally sitting down in a boardroom about to sign her inheritance papers. Unlike the first couple "Tomb Raider" features, this one at least has a fuller vision of who Lara Croft is and why she is a heroine worth following. Watching someone like her, who has no superpowers but is nevertheless agile, resourceful and intelligent enough to save the day, is inspiring. This is Vikander's film for every minute, and she owns it.
© 2018 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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