Tomb Raider: one that should have stayed buried

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider opens well. Alicia Vikander is Lara, a street-smart young woman with more energy and fire than money. She’s a bicycle courier, and a bloody good one — in one of the film’s most memorable sequences, she takes the role of bait in a bike-based take on a fox-hunt, and it’s a fantastically exciting, entertaining, thrilling minute or so of film-making. But it’s only a minute long, and when it’s over, there’s still nearly two hours of rubbish left to go.

The rest of the film follows Lara as she is persuaded by Anna Miller (Kristen Scott Thomas), the vaguely-defined business partner of her father, the even more vaguely-defined Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), to sign papers accepting that his lordship, missing lo these seven years, is not merely presumed but in fact actually dead. This she does, and is then presented with a Japanese puzzle, which she promptly cracks in seconds, to reveal a key, which leads her to her dad’s secret office, containing his files about the search for the grave of the ancient Japanese queen Himiko, whose tomb he had been searching for to prevent a shadowy organisation called Trinity from finding and weaponising Himiko’s corpse.

So off she trots to Hong Kong, there to find Lu Ren, a ship-owner who, she has discovered, offered to take her dad to Yamatai, a mysterious island where Himiko was buried alive by her retainers. She gets to Yamatai only to find that Trinity, or at least a Trinity employee, Matthias Vogel (Walter Goggins) has got there already, and has a slave troop working on looking for the tomb by detonating explosives that remove vast swathes of cliff.

So that’s the set-up, and if it sounds a little all over the place, there would be a very good reason for that. It really is a quite unfocussed, muddled nonsense of a film, one that shows enormous promise for the first half-hour or so that involves anything resembling character development, and then gives up all attempt to be interesting in favour of tedious running through jungles, enduring storms on trawlers, and trying to figure out what film it wants to be next.

Vikander does her best, she really does, and at least she’s allowed to wear long trousers, something previous iterations of Lara Croft in film haven’t. But she’s let down badly by a supporting cast — Goggins is, we know, capable of much better than this woefully underwritten role, one which gives him the barest shred of back-story and gives him little to hang his usually-effortless nasty-but-engaging sneer on, while West sounds like he’s reading from a script that’s being flashed up on a screen one word at a time. In the meantime, Tomb Raider can’t quite decide what film it wants to be. There are hints of Kong: Skull Island in the “lost island” motif, while the “deadly corpse” thread owes more than a debt to Tom Cruise’s equally bollocks vehicle The Mummy. The “running through the jungle” bit at least avoids Creedence Clearwater Revival, but we’re back on Skull Island via Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. But, more than anything else, Tomb Raider wants — oh, it so badly, desperately wants — to be Tomb Raiders Of The Lost Ark.

There are no tombs raided until well over an hour into Tomb Raider, but once one’s entered, the whole thing really does go rather Indiana Jones — even Himiko’s sarcophagus looks a little like the Ark in Raiders. But while Stephen Spielberg managed to find adventure and fun in Raiders, Tomb Raider director Roar Uthaug can only supply plot holes. Instead, he’s too busy getting us toward the twist at the very end of the film that serves only to let us know that the entire two hours was just a set-up for what’s clearly intended to be a series. Oh, dear God, I do hope not.

Historical notes: 

  • Himiko lived in the second century, not the seventh.
  • Yamatai was, it’s believed, a predecessor state to Yamato, the semi-mythical forerunner of Japan, and not an island in the South China Sea
  • Himiko is believed (assuming her historicity) to be buried in Nara, not on a remote island. 
  • Second-century Japan did not use hieroglyphics, nor is there evidence that Shinto has ever used prayer wheels. 

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