Quick question: how far can you leap? Five feet? Ten? Maybe fifteen? Well Lara Croft can clear at least twenty-five and it’s amazing. Yes friends, Tomb Raider, in my extremely credible, unbiased opinion is SO GOOD. It’s the “is it self-aware or is it just really leaning in?” type movie we are usually only lucky enough to stumble upon at 3 am on the SYFY network. It’s the mix of questionable and near genius creative decisions we find in only the most entertaining, relentless titles. It’s the video game movie we both needed AND deserved.
This iteration of the Tomb Raider film franchise hinges tightly to the 2013 reboot of the video game franchise, aptly titled, Tomb Raider. This means it’s back to basics, and by that I mean, it’s all about SURVIVAL. This is Lara Croft before she’s casually (and problematically!) wrestling tigers and back flipping off ledges whilst firing rounds from her iconic twin pistols. Here, she doesn’t even dawn the classic braid (well, for most of the movie anyway, hehe). Instead, we’re in origin story territory. As if watching the video game as our more coordinated older brother actually plays it, we watch Lara attempt and then succeed in surviving the deadliest of lost island obstacles, one after the other. And honestly, it’s thrilling. The camera work is super cool, the male gaze is truly at a minimum, and Miss Croft has never seemed more smart, poised, and badass.
Oh yeah, there’s a plot too. Lara hires Lu Ren, a drunken Chinese sailor, to accommodate her in a quest to find their fathers, who, after setting off to the elusive island of Yamatai in search of Himiko, the island’s mythical queen, have been missing for seven years. Lara’s father is presumed dead, but before accepting his inheritance, she uncovers pivotal information he left behind in a secret study (!) that may lead to his whereabouts. After arriving on the island, they are captured by an asshole bad guy who heads Trinity, an ambiguous company that wants to weaponize whatever the hell Lara’s father believed the ancient queen Himiko was harnessing. It very much sounds and seems like an adventure video game narrative, and it’s weirdly amazing in that way.
Even down to the simple yet admittedly entertaining dialogue, the movie is not trying to be anything more than a video game movie, a genre that has been wrongfully critiqued to oblivion while offering up some of the most stylish, inventive camera work, art direction, and action. Just as any good video game does, the movie wants you to experience the beats of a tense obstacle, catch your breath, and then get ready for the next hurdle. One arguably hilarious scene finds Lara and company attempting to solve a key-and-lock puzzle while the floor rapidly falls into a pit of darkness below their feet and it is SO FUN. Another has Lara sliding down a tomb wall as she dodges rolling spiked cylinders, which literally took my breath away. The scenes in the actual tomb itself feel classic and familiar in a good way, and offer up some truly interesting, weird imagery of their own.
Even nearly perfect things still have downsides. Although the father-daughter relationship may tug at your heartstrings a bit, it’s still feels pretty baseless. We see flashbacks of her father imparting wisdom as she works on archery and plays in their mansion courtyard as a child, but you still don’t get quite to the depth of their relationship. But again, who cares? You can project enough of your own emotions onto it to still enjoy the hell out of this movie. One dynamic you won’t have trouble connecting with, though, is the one between Lara and Lu Ren. They both are connected by the search for their fathers and then tasked with escaping form captivity together, so when we see them survive through yet another malevolent situation, their often-wordless dynamic reads quite powerfully.
The movie’s final hero vs. baddie confrontation is even satisfying; the battle makes an inspired choice in using UFC-style moves and a punch to the balls to boot. We even get a nice freedom-from-slave-labor storyline that thankfully avoids the dreaded white savior route thanks to the just-as-present and charismatic Lu. So yes, a gritty, more grounded take on the Tomb Raider franchise was well worth it. This version of Lara Croft is tough, smart, loving, and kind. Hasn’t she always been though?