Bruce Steele: In early 2000, a little-known 24-year-old actress named Angelina Jolie won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Two years later, she starred in the blockbuster Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. In early 2016, a little-known 27-year-old actress named Alicia Vikander won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Two year later, she's playing Lara Croft in the blockbuster Tomb Raider. Is this role some kind of rite of passage?
Edwin Arnaudin: Apparently, and likely bestowed upon the new Academy Award winner via a coupon placed in her post-ceremony gift bag. I never saw Jolie’s version, but based on Vikander’s turn, the torch-passing seems more like a curse than a gift. Is the 2002 edition any better?
Bruce: The Jolie version follows the James Bond globe-trotting model, with scenes in Venice, Cambodia and Siberia, and it adheres more to the "supernatural artifact" tradition of the Raiders of the Lost Ark movies. This new movie, except for a kinda fun bike race in London and a foot race in Hong Kong, both sort of pointless, is marooned on a King Kong-like uncharted jungle island with a lot of really dull bad guys. Did you find anything new or fresh in Tomb?
Edwin: I didn’t, and it’s the kind of movie where I was constantly aware that our protagonist was never in any real danger. The director is Roar Uthaug, whose 2016 Norwegian disaster flick The Wave borrowed heavily from its genre forebears, yet at least had impressive low-budget special effects. I hoped he might bring some inventive visuals to Tomb Raider, but it feels unremarkable there as well.
Bruce: It’s such a derivative and unoriginal movie, there’s just not much to say about it. Anyone older than about 12 will have seen all this stuff before — and done better. Even the cinematography, which one usually doesn’t notice on these comic-book adventure yarns, is shoddy, with several scenes underlit or just badly lit. It must look like mud in 3D, no matter how many times (I lost count) Lara dangles by one hand over some precipice.
Edwin: It’s schlocky looking, there’s no reason to care about anyone or anything that happens, every revelation is spelled out through lazy exposition and it wastes a fine cast. Croft Holdings attorney Derek Jacobi gets to sit at a table for a few minutes with Kristin Scott Thomas’ CEO, who is at least allowed a walk to an elevator.
Bruce: They’re both clearly in paycheck mode. The mind reels at what they must have earned per minute of screen time.
Edwin: Meanwhile, Dominic West is on autopilot as Lara’s presumed dead father Richard, Walton Goggins’ made more of an impact with a fourth of the screen time in the Maze Runner finale than he does with thinly-sketched villain Vogel and the squeaky-voiced Vikander feels miscast as an action star. About the only turn of note is an uncredited Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz) as a cheeky pawn shop owner.
Bruce: Don’t get me started about the pawn shop, Lara’s allegedly valuable looted trinket and the whole ridiculous subplot in which she’s struggling for cash despite a huge inheritance and a mansion in waiting. Jolie’s Lara was just plain rich, which is really more fun and more believable. Not that believability ever crossed the minds of these filmmakers. Even Goggins’ henchmen are stiff and awful. How can you muck up evil henchmen?
Edwin: Well, they did it, so…bravo? Even less believable is a potential sequel, which Tomb Raider sets up with an awful and probably unintentional Usual Suspects rip-off. After round one, which gets a D from me, I have no interest in continuing with these characters.
Bruce: Sad to say I agree. Vikander is a likeable actress and may be incredibly talented, but her choices since winning an Oscar for The Danish Girl (and Ex Machina, the same year) have been mostly dull or disastrous. Here’s hoping to see her again soon — in any other role. I will concur with your D to demonstrate my solidarity with Tomb Raider’s lack of originality.
So what should Asheville moviegoers see this week?
Edwin: I’d suggest some lighter fare that audiences may have skipped the past few weeks in favor of higher-profile and ultimately disappointing options. The crime comedy Gringo isn’t perfect, but there are plenty of R-rated laughs courtesy of some game famous faces (e.g. Charlize Theron, David Oyelowo, Joel Edgerton, Amanda Seyfried and Sharlto Copley). Even funnier are Game Night and Peter Rabbit. There’s a reason both have stuck around theaters after 3 and 5 weeks, respectively, even in the shadow of Black Panther. What do you recommend?
Bruce: Gringo and Game Night both have some fine, funny moments, and I’d also recommend the new comedy Love, Simon for anyone who’s always wondered what a big studio teen movie with a gay protagonist would be like. It’s glossy and kinda dumb but sweet and satisfying in its way. For more adventurous moviegoers, the post-Oscar-race indie to see is Thoroughbreds. It’s smart and slick and twisted, with articulate dialogue, great performances, creative direction and a number of surprises. It’s also Anton Yelchin’s final film, sad to say. And I know we can agree that Asheville moviegoers should catch A Fantastic Woman before it leaves town March 22. Considering the mediocrity of the newer high-profile movies at the moment, Asheville film lovers’ choices are actually pretty, um, fantastic.
Grade: D. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photos: Warner Bros.)