By Drs. Silvia and Craig Reid
Lara Kroft (Swedish actress Alicia Vikander) in Tomb Raider blatantly admits to her friend, “I’m no superhero.” The irony of her words might quite possibly be a self-fulfilling prophecy at the boxoffice this weekend, perhaps even a slow death knell.
For those that came in late, the fiercely independent, 21-year-old loser street waif is forced to accept that her eccentric adventurer father who vanished undergoing some secret supernatural mission to save the world is presumed dead. Just as she is about to legally sign off on his shadowy demise she plays with a Japanese puzzle box and surprise…it opens…a clue inside. The clue sends Lara on a wild goose chase to Asia’s version of the Bermuda Triangle in search of her dad’s last-known destination: a fabled tomb on a mythical island somewhere off the coast of Japan and home of the evilest of evil supernatural enemies that mankind has ever known, the mother of death, the order of Trinity and the chasm of souls.
When word got out that Vikander was cast as the bungee plunging, chasm-leaping and ass-kicking Lara Croft, a female version of Indiana Jones in the re-bunny-slipper-boot of the video game influenced film and Angelina Jolie starring Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, I thought, “What the fudge,” yes, I have a sweet tooth.
I mean, after all, with the success of powerful women superhero rolls from last year’s best female superhero film made to date, Gal Gidot as Wonder Woman and the formidably fierce Amazon warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) in Thor, Ragnarok to last month’s Danai Gurira’s fierce African woman soldier Okoye in Black Panther, could make Vikander’s meek and muted, young teen version of Lara shrivel in the wake of these three action fighters and set the strong, powerful action veneer of women several steps backwards. In my eyes, Vikander accomplished this during the film’s first 15 minutes.
Directed by Norwegian genre specialist Roar Uthaug, this possible Scandinavian duo could have perhaps vested a bit of their Viking past to make a new Kroft future, but instead the film played like an action insipid version of a Sid and Marty Krofft Saturday morning episode of H.R. Pufnstuf without the costumes, where Jimmy was obviously Lara, well at least they both spoke with English accents.
The film opens with Lara fighting a mixed martial arts female fighter that goes making apple cider on her, beating her to a pulp. She is next entitled into becoming a fox in a fox hunt bike race through the streets of London, because this multi-millionaire needs 600 quid (British pounds) to pay rent to prove to the audience that she’s a likable rich street waif. She loses again.
The film actually and certainly unwittingly revisits this theme as when she is consistently trying to save the day or her self, somehow she is oft rescued by a male character. However, she does do well when she runs (she has a good running style like a 400 meter sprinter), eventually masters archery and has incredible sinewy strength as she is repeatedly holding on for deer (do’h), I mean dear life, with one hand or a couple of fingers as she precariously dangles over vertigo inducing waterfalls or deep cavernous pits.
The training Vikander did for her role didn’t include martial arts but revisiting the intense training of her ballet background. Thus, she’s flexible, enduring and in good shape like an elite athlete, except…
…this Croft is not an ass-kicker, a woman to be reckoned with or even anything close to the video game or Jolie’s portrayal. But the film tries to show that she is an ass-kicker and a woman to be reckoned and gracefully fails on both accounts. However, I will give the filmmaker their due, she doesn’t act, move or fight like Jolie.
This is not Vikander’s fault, that falls on the shoulders of the director and stunt coordinator who don’t know how to shoot an action scene or fight with an actress that can’t fight or do action. The filmmakers are also unable to pull of the CGI with a convincing human scale as the over reality is not sold to due to it’s under reality.
One may say that she does beat the odds, and it’s true. The problem is that at no point during the film is it set up to show that she could indeed beat the odds, yet somehow she can.
For example, when she gets impaled completely through the body with a spiky object that sticks out on both sides of her torso, she does a most stupid thing. While lying in filthy muck and mud, she pulls the spike out, creating holes on either side of her body and then somehow instantly musters the strength to chase a shadowy character through the jungle. Losing blood like a car with a hole in the gas tank, she still has the gas to climb up the face of a freaking cliff with straining stretched arms and does so without losing any more blood and slipping once. At this point I became brain dead and tried to convince myself that she simply must be the best rock climber I’ve ever seen. Yet from where and how did she suddenly draw this strength from? Cinematically it’s not clear.
It would be like if I had a “C” in calculus at Cornell going into the final exam that was worth 75% of our final grade and without studying I get an “A” and graduate with honors. BTW, this didn’t happen and neither should have Kroft’s amazing cliff climb as well as other well-thought out set pieces that fell short of an “A” like my calculus grade did. Fortunately I wasn’t a math major, but for Tomb Raider it needs to be a major film with impressive boxoffice receipts in order to get a sequel. It’s also required the film gets an audience ultimate rating score, which at the moment according to Rotten Tomatoes and me, are both like my real calculus grade…slightly below average.
But then again, it’s just a movie. Yet here’s the martial arts kicker that befuddles me and will assuredly confuse the hell out of anyone who even dared to think that Tomb Raider might have some good martial arts action…. which before the film came out I did, and for the same reason martial arts fans might also have the same thought. Tomb Raider stars one of Hong Kong’s superlative kung fu action actors and most certainly the martial arts man that is the driving force behind the amazing success of AMC’s martial arts fight extravaganza, dystopian-future TV show Into the Badlands, Daniel Wu.
Not one punch, not one kick…yet the one thing Wu does have is the presence and charisma to steal each scene that he’s in. Not unlike Donnie Yen in Star Wars: Rouge One who with minimal effort and great acting chops stole the movie. Perhaps Tomb Raider realized that if Wu did one or two awesome fights, which he’s totally capable of doing without special effects and camera cheats, which still didn’t save Lara’s few poor fist-i-cuff sequences, he would have stolen Tomb Raider. Thus the film would have to have changed it’s title to follow the stylized action flow of the successful male titular action characters, like John Wick, Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher and in this case…Tom Braider.