The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Tomb Raider

The track record of movies based on videogames is pretty abysmal, but the two previous Tomb Raider movies with Angelina Jolie were an exception. It didn't matter that they weren't great films, because they offered sufficient excitement and she was a plausible, appealing action hero. The new Tomb Raider reboot clearly intends to jump start the franchise after a long hiatus, this time with Oscar winner Alicia Vikander playing Lara Croft. The result is no better or worse than its predecessors. It's just a fun, lightweight action picture.

As the story begins, Lara works as a bicycle courier. She laments the disappearance, and presumed death, of her adventurer father (Dominic West) seven years prior. After coming into possession of a secret message he left behind for her, Lara realizes that the answers to his vanishing reside on a “lost” island somewhere off the coast of Japan. She (just barely) makes her way there with the help of a drunken boat captain, Lu Ren (Daniel Wu). Once on the island, she not only discovers that her father is still alive, but also that he's spent his time trying to prevent a rival explorer, Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), from discovering the location of a secret tomb that will unleash a destructive supernatural energy if opened.

From a storytelling perspective, Tomb Raider is relatively generic. We've seen this kind of “searching for a missing father” theme before. The movie even contains the requisite scene where Lara finds a videotape her father made, in which he utters the age-old cliche, ”If you're watching this, it means I'm dead.” No more original is the quest she embarks on. An entire backstory exists about what's in the tomb and why it would be catastrophic to open it. Coming up with new explanations for such matters must be difficult, given that so many movies rely on the same general ideas.

A couple of things save Tomb Raider from its less inspired elements, most notably Alicia Vikander. She's fantastic in role – charming, credibly tough, and even funny when the screenplay calls for Lara to deliver a little sarcasm. Sometimes actors walk through roles of this sort, as though they realize the stunts and effects will carry them to some degree. Not Vikander. You feel every ounce of her commitment. The casting seemed unlikely when first announced, yet she provides the well-known videogame character with real personality.

The other strong point, unsurprisingly, is the string of action sequences. Despite occasionally having CGI that overdoes it with that annoyingly phony digital haze, the adventure elements are effective. A scene involving a waterfall and a rusty old airplane is thrilling in the way it stacks peril upon peril. And of course, the big finale pulls out all the stops. Lara obviously enters the tomb, where she faces booby-traps and puzzles that need to be solved. Director Roar Uthaug (The Wave) stays true to the videogame feel without being so slavish to it that we feel as though we're just watching somebody fiddling with a PlayStation. Emphasis remains on Lara as she navigates these dangers.

Tomb Raider makes no pretense of being anything other than a check-your-brain-at-the-door-and-have-a-good-time adventure. Most movies based on videogames are barely watchable. Thanks to some solid action and the amazing Alicia Vikander, this one works precisely at its intended level.

( out of four)

Blu-ray Features:

Tomb Raider will be available on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack, 3D Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack, and DVD on June 12. A complimentary copy of the Blu-ray was provided by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment for the purposes of this review.

There are four special features on the disc, totaling roughly thirty minutes. “Tomb Raider: Uncovered” is a fairly straightforward look at the decision to reboot the franchise, as well as some of the ways it differentiates itself from the previous movies.

“Croft Training” is a really fascinating account of how Alicia Vikander got into peak physical shape to play Lara. There's a lot of footage of the grueling exercise regimen she went through. You'll also learn how her diet had to be modified in order to get her body where she wanted it to be. The actress describes the entire process and how exhausting it was.

“Breaking Down the Rapids” looks at the special effects that went into the exciting scene in which Lara goes down whitewater rapids and ends up clinging to a rusted-out old airplane. The scene itself is great, so the chance to see how it was achieved provides an eye-opening demonstration of the magical things FX can do. One cool tidbit is that Vikander was put into a whitewater rafting practice course to film certain shots.

Finally, there's “Lara Croft: Evolution of an Icon,” an extensive study of how the character changed and grew over the course of the videogame series on which she is based. It's a good primer on Lara leading up to this most recent film.

All the extras are well-produced and informative. The Tomb Raider Blu-ray additionally boasts top-notch picture and sound quality.

Tomb Raider is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some language. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.

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