Review of “Tomb Raider”

Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is trying to make her own way in the world. She delivers food via bicycle for a service and studies mixed martial arts at a neighborhood gym; however she is falling behind on her bills and an effort to win a bicycle race against the other delivery people at her job lands her in trouble with the police. Lara is the heir to a massive fortune since her father Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) disappeared seven years earlier but she refuses to sign the papers that would declare him legally dead. While in police custody Lara’s former guardian Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas) comes to bail her out and encourages her to sign the papers as she also works at Lara’s father’s company. Showing up at her father’s offices the next day Lara is about to sign the papers when she is given a Japanese puzzle box. Distracted, Lara plays with the box and solves it causing a secret compartment to pop open. Inside is a photo of a young Lara with her father and a note wrapped around a key. Lara realizes the note is a clue to what the key fits and leaves the offices without signing the papers. She goes to the Croft estate and enters the family tomb where Lara unlocks a secret door that leads to an office. Inside she finds lots of artifacts and boxes of her father’s notes along with a camcorder. The tape in the camera is a message for Lara telling her to destroy all his notes involving Himiko and warning her of an organization called Trinity. Going against her father’s wishes Lara studies the maps and figures out the location of an island that was her father’s final destination: An island off the coast of Japan that doesn’t appear on any map. Lara approaches Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) a ship captain whose father took Lord Croft on his final voyage and also disappeared. When they get close to the island a storm destroys their ship and both are captured by a group of men led by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). Vogel is looking for something on the island and can’t leave until he finds it. Lara has the information to take Vogel to the very thing Lord Croft didn’t want discovered.

The history of video game-based movies is littered with horrendous efforts to cash in on a popular title. The granddaddy of these stinkers is “Super Mario Bros.” from 1993. No one involved in the production has very good memories of it. According to co-director Rocky Morton the script they agreed to direct was vastly changed when shooting began, turning it into a production nightmare. Clearly nothing like that happened in the creation and production of “Tomb Raider” as it is a very workman-like creation with the requisite number of action scenes, emotional moments and stunning realizations. It’s perfectly fine but not terribly special.

Alicia Vikander makes a very good Lara Croft. She is able to carry off the attitude and the swagger we expect from our favorite tomb raider. While there were some fanboys whining on the internet about Vikander lacking certain physical attributes (specifically large enough breasts) to make her a believable Croft those complaints are mainly from those that judge women on an impossible scale of physical beauty. I hope since she doesn’t live up to their standards that they stay home and don’t subject themselves to having to look at her. I for one think she is perfectly fine to look at. Vikander’s performance has to be somewhat tempered since she isn’t the Lara Croft that we were introduced to when Angelina Jolie took on the role in 2001’s “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” That Lara had been going on adventures for some time prior to the start of the movie so she was in full explorer mode from the get go. Vikander’s Lara is just learning about all the adventures and danger so she makes mistakes and takes a while to figure out the puzzles that stand between her and for what she’s searching. From the standpoint of introducing the character of Lara Croft, “Tomb Raider” does a pretty good job.

The villain and the quest are what let the movie down. Early on we hear about an ancient Japanese queen that made blood run in the streets and her tomb is what is being looked for. While Lara’s father sounds the alarm about finding the tomb the whole notion of this as the goal of an international conspiracy seems a bit silly. Of course all quests in video games are silly on their face and become more so when transferred to a movie screen; however it is the job of a screenwriter to come up with a story idea that makes sense in the modern world. The supernatural mumbo jumbo espoused in the first half of “Tomb Raider” is delivered with neither intensity nor conviction. It undermines everything that happens once the action moves to the island.

When I say the villain lets down the movie I don’t mean Walton Goggins. Goggins is a great actor with a long resume of great performances as a bad guy and he does the best he can with an underwritten and rudderless part. Goggins’ Vogel is never truly let off the leash to show what a murderous maniac he is. Efforts are made to make Vogel a sympathetic villain with a couple of references to his wanting to get off the island and see his kids. It doesn’t work as it makes Vogel seem more whiny than determined to succeed and go home to his family. The script has Vogel commit the required heartless murders of a tyrant as he forces his slave labor to work with little rest or food but Goggins seems to be just hitting the beats and doing the minimum. While his performance starts with some quiet menace as he talks with Lara right after her capture it quickly runs out of steam. While I have no pity for Vogel I do feel sorry for Goggins as he is clearly trapped in a poorly thought out character.

What follows is what I like to call me thinking too much about minor stuff in a movie. A couple of characters sustain fairly serious injuries during the course of the film as one might expect with lots of jumping and falling and shooting and such. Lara gets a branch impaled in her side and Lu Ren is shot in the shoulder. While Lara’s injury gets some attention it is largely ignored after that. Lu Ren’s shoulder is never mentioned after we are shown him holding the injury just after being shot. I know it is a well-worn trope that main characters receive injuries that would put anyone else in the hospital for a couple of days but they manage to live with and even thrive despite the damage. Having two characters suffer such injuries makes this tired bit of story mechanics stick out all the more. End of rant.

“Tomb Raider” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and some language. There are numerous shootings and fist fights throughout the film. Lara is mugged and chased by her muggers after she gets her bag back then threatened with a knife. There are other chases as well. There are a couple of scenes where characters are affected by a disease that appears to cause them great pain. Foul language is scattered and mild.

“Tomb Raider” will remind gamers of the 2013 game of the same name. It too finds a nascent Lara Croft on a journey to an island with a bunch of bad guys she has to defeat and an ancient evil that must be stopped. While the movie and the game share characters with the same names the story is vastly different. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been. While the game takes a more fantastical angle borrowing some of those elements might have made the movie more entertaining. As it is, its fine but it could have been more.

“Tomb Raider” gets three stars out of five.

This week sees five new films heading to your local multiplex. I’ll see at least one of the following:

Midnight Sun—

Pacific Rim: Uprising—

Paul, Apostle of Christ—

Sherlock Gnomes—


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Review of “Warcraft”

The orc world of Draenor is almost dead. Orc leader Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) plans on using a form of magic called fel to open a portal to another world full of life called Azeroth. Fel requires energy be drained from living creatures and plants to power it so Gul’dan gathers up the last remaining life on Draenor to open the portal and send a raiding party to gather up more life to sacrifice so the rest of his horde can be brought through later. One of his soldiers, Durotan (Toby Kebbell) brings along his warrior wife Draka (Anna Galvin) who is close to giving birth. During the journey through the portal, Draka goes into labor and delivers a stillborn child after arriving in Azeroth. Gul’dan removes the life force from a deer and imbues the child with fel, bringing it to life. The orc raiders begin attacking villages and collecting prisoners to sacrifice to the fel. Military commander Anduin Lothar is informed of the raids and looks over some of the dead villagers. He discovers a mage named Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) is at the barracks that hasn’t identified himself. Khadgar believes there’s something more going on than raiders attacking the villagers and Lothar allows him to examine one of the bodies. One corpse expels a green mist when Khadgar looks him over. Khadgar knows it is the fel and urges the Guardian be called in. Medivh (Ben Foster), the Guardian of Tirisfal, is entrusted to keep all the realms of Azeroth safe with his magic. King Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), once he is informed of Khadgar’s concerns, approves summoning Medivh. Lothar informs Medivh about the threat while Khadgar waits in the library. While there, he notices a shadowy figure in front of a particular book. As he approaches, the figure disappears but Khadgar puts the book in his bag. Medivh, Lothar and Khadgar go to King Wrynn where Medivh explains how dangerous the fel is and how the orcs must be stopped. King Wrynn sends a scouting team to who is attacking the kingdom but they are ambushed by orcs and several are killed. Medivh uses a spell to force the fel out of those orcs who are infected by it and they die. Durotan isn’t infected and he and some other orcs escape. A half-breed orc named Garona (Paula Patton), treated as a slave by the orcs, is captured. Durotan realizes the fel is what killed Draenor and he believes the only way the orc can survive is to kill Gul’dan. Garona is offered her freedom in exchange for loyalty to King Wrynn and is sent on a mission with Lothar and others to spy on the orcs. Durotan finds Garona and offers to meet with King Wrynn to form an alliance to defeat Gul’dan.

“Warcraft” is based on a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG for short) that at one time had about 12 million active subscribers but the last available information from late 2015 put the number at 5.5 million. Blizzard Entertainment, the company that created the game, obviously would like to both build up the number of users and generate income in other ways from the property hence a movie. The game of Warcraft would seem to be fertile ground for a genre film with the various realms, clans and magic wielders to work with. Since a movie has an end and the game doesn’t, it requires a story be crafted that can weave all the threads into a watchable and entertaining whole and that’s the problem with “Warcraft.”

The script certainly has a great deal of world building in it. We are introduced to several characters, fantastical creatures and magic in the first few minutes. As the movie continues, more characters, backstories and political intrigue is added to the mix. There is a great deal of information to process in “Warcraft” but none of it really adds up to become an interesting story. The little there is merely in place to set up a sequel and possibly several more films. It’s like the screenwriters decided to put off figuring out a good story for the next installment. If this movie was free then I’d be more forgiving but since I had to pay, I prefer having something far more interesting and engaging to watch.

While “Warcraft” is mostly visually interesting the orcs, who get almost as much screen time as the humans, don’t quite measure up to the quality of other CGI/mo-cap characters like those in the “Planet of the Apes” reboot and the most recent “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” films. They have a decided “video game” look about them as if the digital artists didn’t quite have time to add all the final touches. All the scenes involving the orcs, especially when they are in large numbers, look flat like they are pictures cut out and glued to the screen. The interaction between the digital orcs and live-action actors also looks a bit odd in a couple of battle scenes. It appears the actors weren’t exactly sure where the orcs would be and don’t react to them until they are struck by their weapons. It was rather obvious in the battle that occurs in the woods.

None of the actors are particularly memorable in their roles. Of course, all the orcs are buried under CGI makeup so judging their performances is more difficult. The humans are all very serious in their characters with the only one showing much in the way of life is Travis Fimmel as Lothar. He gets to be a bit playful at times, especially with Khadgar; but he also must deal with the tongue tangling names of the various characters and realms and try to keep a straight face while doing it. He is also saddled with a somewhat inappropriate romance that flares up at a noticeably inopportune time. That bit of story really lands with a thud and could have easily been left out.

“Warcraft” is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy violence. The orcs wield massive hammers and axes that likely kill any human with one blow. There is very little human blood and not much orc. We see an orc limb cut off and several orcs and humans are run through with swords. There is one human death that is particularly enjoyed by the orc that kills him. Foul language is not an issue.

There are a great many moving parts to the story of “Warcraft.” There are alliances, betrayals, governmental squabbling, jealousy, love, magic and much more. Sadly, it doesn’t add up to a coherent story with much of interest to say. “Warcraft” is what “Back to the Future II” was accused of being: A very long trailer for the next installment. While there are some interesting visuals of magic being used and fantastical flying creatures like gryphons and massive eagles used as transportation, all the pretty pictures aren’t enough to overcome the lack of story and the feeling that “Warcraft” is incomplete.

“Warcraft” gets one star out of five.

This week there’s a fish out of water story along with a fish in the water story. I’ll see and review at least one of these films:

Central Intelligence—

Finding Dory—

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