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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Review: Tomb Raider isn't terrible, but is it really necessary?

Latest video game adaptation follows an unwelcome trend

Alicia Vikander and Daniel Wu in a scene from Tomb Raider Graham Bartholomew / Warner Bros. Pictures
Alicia Vikander and Daniel Wu in a scene from Tomb Raider Graham Bartholomew / Warner Bros. Pictures

I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I have never played the popular 1990s video game series that spawned the movie adaptations, which began first time around with Angelina Jolie as tomb-raiding heroine Lara Croft in 2001’s Tomb Raider. I have visited a friend’s house while he was playing the game, though, and derived about as much emotional involvement or pleasure from those few moments of watching someone play a video game I had no interest in as I did from Roar Uthaug’s movie take on the Lara Croft story.

The new version sees Croft travelling to an isolated Japanese island where a mythical “Death Queen” is reportedly entombed, in search of her missing father. There, she encounters some not very nice people who are also trying to unlock the mysteries of the tomb, solves riddles and escapes traps. That’s basically as much plot as there is.

Uthaug has at least given the new movie some touches of his own rather than simply replacing Jolie with a younger model for more of the same. Where Jolie’s Croft was a mean, gun-toting martial arts expert that nobody messed with, Alicia Vikander’s is a sensitive soul – the opening scene sees her being roundly beaten in the ring by another woman at her training gym. Where Jolie’s Croft was a kind of a female Batman, a billionaire hero complete with butler, personal technical weaponry and wizardry design assistant, and hot pants instead of a cape, Vikander’s has eschewed her family’s wealth to work as a cycle courier in London, completely lacks gadgets, and wears trousers more appropriate to a chilly tomb environment.

In fairness to Vikander, she does a reasonable job of characterising a tough, yet vulnerable, female lead with a complex relationship with her missing father. You just wonder if it was worth the effort when the storyline the character takes part in is so utterly flimsy.

As for that relationship with her father, it’s far more convincing when he remains missing. Once Dominic West’s Lord Richard Croft appears on the scene, he takes the approach that in the absence of a convincing script, he can conjure chemistry with his daughter by using a cutesy pet name for her after every sentence – specifically “Sprout”.

He can’t. It just grates.

Uthaug’s take won’t win too many points for inclusiveness, either.

While Vikander does represent a strong, female lead, and certainly a stronger character than any of the other (largely white, male) leads, there’s unlikely to be a congratulatory card in the post from the #NotYourAsianSidekick campaign for Daniel Wu’s pliant, emasculated Asian sidekick Lu Ren.

The sweeping assertion that the Asian slaves that are kept on the island to help search for the tomb are captured boat people that left home looking for “a better life,” despite all apparently coming from Hong Kong, one of the world’s richest islands, seems to rather overdo the “Asia is poor” motif, too.

It’s not a terrible film. Unthaug choreographs some decent action and effects sequences and Vikander does her best with limited resources, but the overall question you’re left with after two hours is, quite simply, why?

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