Tomb Raider (2018) (12A)

Much like the February 2018 release of Marvel’s Black Panther, which celebrated the diversity, modernisation, tradition and cultural heritage of African-American culture at a time where it has rarely been so relevant and important as since the Civil Rights movement, the April 2018 release of the Tomb Raider re-boot, from a marketing perspective, could not have come at a better time.

In light of the shameful scandals which led to the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns that have swept through Hollywood, what better time to release a film about a strong, independent and fabulously wealthy (yet completely humble) young Woman, with little-to-no romantic interest in the hordes of men who surround her and underestimate her skills and abilities on a daily basis?

Care-free but clearly very physically adept, London bike courier Lara is very capably portrayed by Oscar Winner (Best Supporting Actress, The Danish Girl, 2015) Alicia Vikander. Her washboard stomach and supermodel looks are a far cry from the voluptuous bounty of Angelina Jolie in the original, flawed incarnation. But this is a very deliberate move away from the original incarnation of the game as this re-boot of the potential franchise is an adaptation of the re-boot of the 2013 game ( https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomb_Raider_(2013_video_game ) , hence the simple costume of cargo trousers and low cut green vest-top.

Vikander put on four pounds of muscle during the gruelling physical preparation for the role, and her commitment to the role certainly shines through. She can run, swim, climb and shoot a bow very convincingly and her taught, toned arms are omni-present throughout the film as she goes Full Indiana on the audience in a quest for a mystical Maguffin involving phrases like ‘The Devil’s Sea’ , ‘The Queen Of Death’ , ‘The Order Of Trinity’ and the (wait for it) ‘Chasm Of Souls’ !

Opening to a brilliantly staged bike chase through hipster London (which reminded me strongly of the hugely under-rated courier chase thriller ‘Premium Rush’) followed by some quick scene-setting preamble, the action shifts to the South China seas where the action properly begins.

Of course I won’t explain the plot but suffice to say it involves a magical, mystical quest and lots of expositionary dialogue, intercut with action scenes of thrilling chases, running, bow-shooting, free-climbing, swimming, ducking and falling.

The CGI is, of course, excellent as it would be rather embarssing if it wasn’t, given the film’s heritage and Norwegian director Roar Uthaug (of the ‘Frit Vilt’ – ‘Cold Prey’ – horror trilogy which, unbelievably, I have seen…and really liked!) works hard to generate tension and excitement, given the thunderous tribal drumming used throughout the film’s score.

Sadly, however, the film is never quite as exciting and involving as it thinks it is and never becomes the blistering franchise re-kickstarter it so clearly wants to be.

Like the difference between watching a Martin Campbell James Bond film, compared to a Sam Mendes one, the action here is all just too safe and I think the issue stems from the game’s computer game origins (always a bit of a curse to begin with, let’s be honest): there is no sense of threat, of genuine mortality as we all know full well that Croft won’t perish before the credits roll. Somehow Martin Campbell can make Bond indestructible, yet we still fear for his life throughout.

Further to this, some of the action scenes – step forward the rusted plane scene, lifted directly from the game in a loving homage – feel, ironically, like cut-scenes from a computer game themselves: slightly contrived and crow-barred into the proceedings. This is not a terrible enough thing so as to ruin the film, but neither does it add to the plot or the excitement either.

The cast try their very best with the perfectly serviceable material at hand, but a certain Harrison Ford quote about the difference between typing this shit and saying it springs to mind throughout the film’s 132 minute running time.

Walton Goggins is appropriately grimy as the slightly down-trodden and world-weary middle-management villain type (whoever could his Boss be!?) who can easily murder injured septugenarian slave workers, but really just wants to go home to his Wife and children.

Dominic West gives his best booming exposition as Papa Croft, who flits in and out of the story at appropriate junctures and sets the scene for the not-at-all creepy Daddy fixation which permeates Lara’s personality.

The authentic, mainly-CGI free sets are commendably constructed and the whole look of the film is impressively sweaty, grimy and gritty enough. Things begin to get a bit more gruesome towards the end as the story begins to come together in this perfectly decent and solidly made action-adventure thriller.

Ironically, many people are blaming Vikander’s lack of Jolie-esque curves for the film’s slightly under-whelming box-office takings.

Personally, I think it’s because the film just didn’t deliver the frenetic thrills and jaw-dropping excitement that it needed to, to warrant re-booting the franchise, despite the best efforts of everybody concerned.

All -in-all, a solidly made and never-boring action adventure romp which is definitely worth at least one watch.

Just make sure Martin Campbell makes the next one.

Project Square Eyes – Monday the 9th April 2018

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