At left is Lara Croft, the protagonist from the well-known video game. As her first incarnations were rather low-rez, I’m showing a later version. But if you’re not familiar with the Tomb Raider game, or have only seen the Angelina Jolie movies (see Figure 2), Figure 1 is what she is/was intended to be—eye candy for the supposed 14-year-old gamer. She has her iconic pigtail, extremely well-filled halter top, short shorts, boots, and twin automatics at her hips (or in her hands). (Because the first movie was trying to attract the same teen gamer-boi audience, they put Angie J. in skin-tight, shiny Lycra outfits— Lycra, that is, as fake Neoprene—with, shall we say, expanded boobage and, in at least a few shots, fake nipple bumps under the Lycra… Figure 2 again).
For the second Angie Tomb Raider, boobage went down to what she had naturally (I believe); and likewise, the modern game has cut down the chest expansion—partly because they’ve gotten enough negative publicity, and partly because they’re beginning to realize that girls/women play games too… and what could be more empowering to a young woman in a game than a strong, action-filled female character who doesn’t look like a 14-year-old boy’s wet dream?
And now we have the latest incarnation of Lara Croft; namely, Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl, Ex Machina). Vikander is a more natural-looking figure, breast-wise; and at 30 years old, she can certainly pass for a lot younger. I’m not sure, but internal evidence from this movie suggests that Lara is somewhere between 19 and 21 years old (I believe she was about 13 when her father, Richard Croft (Dominic West) said he was going away. He was gone for 7 years, so that would make her 20, if my initial guess was right.
Anyway, the salient point of the Tomb Raider game is running, jumping, shooting, swimming and the like—with you guiding Lara Croft’s every move… part of it’s also a puzzle. You have to decide which way to jump or whatever, which is more involving than watching an onscreen character do all this stuff. However—movie companies are often sold a movie on the basis of “this made money in another incarnation, and it’s got a built-in audience.” Movie companies love money as well as built-in audiences.
The story here is that Lara’s father, Richard Croft, while looking for a mythical Japanese tomb or burial site (Himiko; Wikipedia backs up a bit of what this movie says about her.) Supposedly she had the power to spread death and destruction, so she was buried on a hidden island called Yamatai with a thousand warriors; her tomb was locked with a puzzle, and Croft knows that his old enemy Vogel (Walton Goggins) is after the tomb so he can take this death power and sell it to the highest bidder. Croft is determined to find it first and destroy it. So, after bidding his daughter goodbye, Croft heads off into the unknown and disappears.
Seven years later, Lara is working as a bike messenger; in order to access her father’s fortune, she would have to sign a paper acknowledging his death, and she won’t do that. While participating as the fox in a bicycle race (“fox and hounds”) in London, she crashes her bike into a police car and is arrested. When her father’s business partner Ana (Kristin Scott Thomas) bails her out she discovers that she has very little time left to sign the paper declaring him dead or the inheritance will be dispersed and the family estate sold at auction.
She receives a cryptex containing a hidden message, and discovers her father’s secret office at the mansion; inside is all his research into Himiko… she sees a video message from him (the usual “if you see this, I’m dead” stuff), and he finishes by asking her to destroy all his research so that Vogel can’t get it. She also finds a photo in the office with an invoice saying her father had hired Lu Ren’s ship to take him to Yamatai. Lara pawns an amulet her father had given her—a great cameo by Nick Frost as a pawnshop owner—and heads off to Hong Kong to find Lu Ren.
Who she finds is Lu Ren’s son (Daniel Wu), also named Lu Ren, whose father had also disappeared seven years ago. She convinces him that with her father’s map she can find Yamatai. And, in true B-movie fashion, his ship crashes into rocks during a heavy storm and they are stranded—separately—on Yamatai. (She doesn’t destroy her father’s research; rather, she takes his equivalent to Indy’s dad’s “grail diary” and his map with her.)
From here on in it becomes very predictable indeed; in fact, one could happily call it Lara Croft and the Tomb Raiders of the Lost Last Crusade, as we’ve seen all the puzzles and the perils and the close calls before, not the least in Indiana Jones movies. I won’t spoil it by telling you the McGuffin, except to say that I don’t believe it. It’s as plausible as the Holy Grail’s cure of Indy and his dad. But for me, the worst part of this movie is not the storyline or the overused perils—come on, now; primitive cultures can make traps that last for centuries (in this case, about two thousand years) without breaking down?
For me the problem (if you accept the movie as just another serial turned movie like Indy, which at least makes it watchable) isn’t the tired plot or overused tropes, it’s that Vikander herself is not especially memorable as Lara Croft. When Jolie was onscreen, she dominated the screen. She has screen presence, something that’s missing in Vikander’s case. I’m not saying that Vikander is not pretty, athletic, or good at acting, but she just hasn’t got that presence. As Gertrude Stein said, there’s no there there. At least not yet… but maybe if you give her a couple more years, she’ll grow into the role. (Oh, and there’s a cameo by Claudius—I mean Derek Jacobi.)
Disappointedly, I give this a three-minus flibbet score. ¤¤¤-
Short Takes: The movie I Kill Giants may be thought by some to be a non-genre movie (but you have to watch the whole thing to make up your own mind), but I feel it’s firmly within our genre. We’ve probably all seen the various movies, like Tideland, Pan’s Labyrinth or, indeed, Alice (in Wonderland) herself, where the child protagonist is facing problems they feel are insurmountable, or abuse, or neglect, or just plain prefers fantasy to the real world. From the beginning, this appears to be one of those movies.
Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe) lives in a big, rambling house somewhere on the New Jersey seashore*, with her older sister (Imogen Poots) and brother. She’s about 12, and probably way too bright for her middle school; she corrects teachers, doesn’t interact well with her fellow students (all of whom she thinks are stupid), and sits by herself at lunch writing and drawing in notebook. *The entire movie was filmed in Belgium and Ireland, but you’d never know it from the movie!
In her reality, she is the defender of the town; all around her school and the small town itself, she has placed objects of power, or runes of protection. She has put “giant bait” (scientifically tested for efficacy) in empty plastic milk jugs, as well as traps (deadfalls and nets). As she tells her new friend Sofia (Sydney Wade)—who just moved to town from England—“I find giants; I hunt giants; I kill giants.” She explains to Sofia that a lot of devastation that people blame on earthquakes and other natural disasters is actually due to giants; but people are blind to the actual cause. Because of conflicts at school—she’s gotten in fights with other young women—she has been sent to see the new guidance counselor, Mrs. Molié (Zoe Saldana).
I’m not going to post an ending spoiler here, but although Wolfe is extremely good in the role—which originated as a comic book or graphic novel—there are many problems with the movie that keep me from rating it as highly as I otherwise would.
First, from the start, you know it’s a fantasy world—all that remains is to find out why Barbara has created it, which you do late in the film. Secondly, the dénouement is not explained. Why would Barbara decide to come back to the real world? (There’s a certain amount of ambiguity here which could work in the film’s favour; did Barbara come out of her world by herself, or are giants real?) Thirdly, it’s all wrapped up a bit too neatly—unless, as I say, the ambiguity is resolved in favour of the giants being real.) Otherwise, the ending is way too pat.
There’s some pretty well-done CGI here on the giants and the harbingers, although the Titan kind of reminds me of the first Pacific Rim. I think Madison Wolfe (like Saoirse Ronan before her) is a young woman to watch. I feel comfortable in giving this 3 flibbets, though it’s not a movie I would rewatch any time soon. ¤¤¤
Any comments? If so, comment here or on Facebook. All comments are welcome! (And don’t think you have to agree with me to comment, either.) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owners, editors, publishers or other columnists. See you next week!