Diet blockbuster : they’re marketed like a traditional tent pole release, they also tend to look like the 200-million dollar eyegasm releases of the US Summer cinema season, they’re usually clad with a couple of matinee idols and a hefty effects budget, and they’re generally released in the month before that season begins – say March or April (past diet blockbusters might include last year’s “Kong : Skull Island”, and before that, releases like “Godzilla”, “Jack the Giant Slayer” and “John Carter”). Sure, the ingredients aren’t as top-rate as your Spielberg or Marvel blockbuster, but the many spoons of artificial sweetener crammed into said diet blockbuster will usually suffice even the more fussier of cinemagoers. Just excuse the sometimes unpleasant aftertaste of the excessive Sam Jackson one-liners and CGI ships, they tend to repeat on you.
Warner’s “Tomb Raider” was always going to be a lo-cal blockbuster – particularly since it’s the third in a film franchise that, let’s admit it, appealed to cinema goers about as much as adopting a twelfth African child did Brad Pitt at the end of his marriage to the film’s star. Those two films, released by Paramount, and starring Angelina Jolie as a more buxom, more cartoonish take on video game heroine Lara Croft were bottom-of-the-shoe grime smeared across a theater screen. The new “Tomb Raider” – which shares little connection, besides a character with a hefty drawer of short shorts, with the previous films – doesn’t exactly have its work cut out for it, but it also doesn’t come with an audience seething at the gates to see the film. As such, we’ve a modestly budgeted, rather intimidate no-name reboot that’s releasing before all the better stuff does.
But you know what? For its squat budget, lack of a name cast, and slightly tarnished title, “Tomb Raider” can consider itself a success- it’s the little engine that could and does.
Young rebellious Brit Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) lives from paycheck to paycheck, seemingly use to surviving on her own wits and wallet since her father’s mysterious disappearance years before. After she unintentionally stumbles upon a clue that shines more light on Lord Richard Croft’s (Dominic West) hobbies and last known days, the plucky, flexible Lara sets off to Japan where she persuades a sailor (Daniel Wu) to help her find a mysterious island off the coast of Japan. There, supposedly, lies a fabled tomb – her father’s last-known destination. In between battling bad guys (Walter Goggins at his rascally best as their leader), skirting across plain wreckage on waterfalls, dodging bullets through the jungle, and participating in predictable reunions, Lara becomes the ‘Tomb Raider’ we know her best.
Taking its cue from Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins”, which planted the cartoon hero in a real world scenario, one that audiences could empathize with, Director Roar Uthaug‘s “Tomb Raider” takes a more realistic (and more ‘traditional’ looking young woman, who, though beautiful, does look more like the girl-next-door than Jolie did) and grounded approach to the source material (a long-running video game franchise), excising as much of the ridiculous and over-the-top (from the original films) and instead keying in an old school popcorn matinee template that’s more Indiana Jones and Wonder Woman, where the characters seem as important as the well-crafted stunt sequences. Sure, “Tomb Raider” is nowhere near as good as an Indiana Jones or last year’s ”Wonder Woman” – but considering what’s come before, it’s a pleasant surprise.
It’s the effort that’s been put into Uthaug’s reboot that results in such a fun timepasser – from the stuntwork (there’s some amazingly choreographed action sequences and set pieces here), to the casting (The charming Alicia Vikander gives us the first truly realistic and somewhat relatable take on the iconic adventurer. As opposed to Jolie’s take, Vikander’s Croft seems like a real person – she hurts, she cries, she’s flawed, and she doesn’t always know which ways which. If anything, she’s the audience) and the production design (it’s a slick production – the visuals and terrain reminiscent of last year’s “Kong”), the film seems determined not to be another ‘Cradle of Life’.
Sure, the script by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons is full of plot holes, and it’s bogged down at times by a couple of unnecessary yak scenes and a middle act that doesn’t quite deliver on the promises set out by its first (origin stories seem to always suffer from a bit of ‘blah’ in the middle), but for a film most of us had unfairly written off long ago, “Tomb Raider” is one of the surprise packages of the year. Leave your bow and arrow at the door and just enjoy.