Tomb Raider (2018) movie review

For inSing

TOMB RAIDER

Director : Roar Uthaug
Cast : Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Daniel Wu, Walton Goggins, Kristin Scott Thomas, Nick Frost, Derek Jacobi
Genre : Action, Adventure
Run Time : 1h 58m
Opens : 8 March 2018
Rating : PG13

One of the gaming world’s most iconic heroines is reborn in this reboot-based-on-a-reboot. Lara Croft is back in this film based on the 2013 Tomb Raider game.

Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is a bike courier who races through the streets of London. She could inherit a fortune, but she refuses to accept that her billionaire father Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), who vanished seven years ago, is dead. Lara unearths clues that lead her to his destination – the fabled island of Yamatai, the final resting place of the mythical Japanese Queen Himiko.

Lara hires ship captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to take her to the island. Braving a fierce storm and a shipwreck, Lara arrives on Yamatai, where she comes face to face with the treacherous Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). The mysterious organisation Trinity has ordered Mathias to find Himiko’s tomb, planning to harness whatever lies within as a powerful weapon. Lara must fight for survival as she braves the adventure that will forge her into the Tomb Raider.

Video game movies haven’t quite been able to catch a break – While some had pinned their hopes on 2016’s Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed to turn the tide, those films received mixed to negative notices. Tomb Raider isn’t a game-changer, but it gets the job done.

The 2001 Tomb Raider film starring Angelina Jolie is a guilty pleasure of this reviewer’s. This incarnation eschews the glamour and nigh-superhuman imperviousness displayed by Jolie’s Lara, in favour of a human character who bleeds and gets very grimy – but still possesses impossible levels of upper body strength.

Norwegian director Roar Uthaug has made a largely efficient, straightforward adventure yarn. The movie takes a while to get into gear, and contains a few stretches of unwieldy exposition. The story has been whittled down almost to the point of being overly simplistic, but it counts for something that this is a video game movie with a coherent plot.

Once Lara enters the actual tomb, which happens over an hour into the movie, the film hits its stride. It’s exciting to see Lara navigate traps and solve puzzles as the floor falls out beneath her feet, and it’s when Lara dodges spike-covered cylinders tumbling from the ceiling that this movie becomes Tomb Raider.

This reviewer’s favourite set-piece involves Lara clambering across the wreckage of a plane that hangs over a waterfall, trying to gain purchase as the creaky metal carcass gives way. There are individual moments that made this reviewer cheer, and the best sequences are ones that closely echo those in the game. There’s also a fun if superfluous foot chase set in a bustling Hong Kong harbour.

Vikander lends Lara charm and likeability, and has gotten herself into incredible physical shape. Lara is a little more fearless and less sheltered than the character is in the 2013 game. Vikander acquits herself well during the action sequences, and it doesn’t feel as if the Oscar winner thinks this material is beneath her. Lara is resilient and resourceful, and while her back-story of searching for a long-lost parent and facing her destiny is familiar, Vikander never feels like she’s going through the motions.

In the game, there was a whole expedition who accompanied Lara to the island. The film streamlines this by mashing them into a single character, Wu’s Lu Ren. He brings swagger and action hero cred to the role. While he doesn’t get too much to do in the film’s second half, the character is integral to Lara’s journey.

Walton Goggins is a vastly underrated actor who can be counted on to play a terrific villain. Unfortunately, Mathias is a somewhat bland part – he commands an army of mercenaries and he’s ruthless, but there isn’t very much to him. The film doesn’t do the best job of establishing the looming threat that Trinity, a far-reaching secret society, poses. It seems like this will get further explored in the sequel, if one materialises.

Dominic West is just 19 years older than Vikander, so he seems a touch young to play her father. The father-daughter dynamic wants to be moving, but never quite gets there. Nick Frost shows up to provide comic relief as a pawnshop proprietor. It does feel like this movie’s supporting cast needs to make more of an impact.

Tomb Raider is gritty and grounded but never bleak and is often entertaining, but it feels like that last sprinkle of magic dust is missing. However, it does get enough right, more than most video game movies before it have and we’d be more than game for a sequel.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

For F*** Magazine

THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR

Director : Cedric Nicolas-Troyan
Cast : Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron, Nick Frost, Rob Brydon, Alexandra Roach, Sheridan Smith, Sam Claflin
Genre : Action/Fantasy
Run Time : 114 mins
Opens : 14 April 2016
Rating : PG13 (Violence)

Once upon a time, there was an actress whose indiscretions resulted in her being booted from a potential franchise which she would’ve headlined. So instead, we turn our attention to the deuteragonist. Eric the Huntsman (Hemsworth) was one of a number of children kidnapped and forced into military training, to be groomed into the army of the Snow Queen Freya (Blunt). Defying Freya’s orders that they harden their hearts to love, Eric falls headlong for fellow warrior Sara (Chastain). Many years later, Eric thinks he is free of Freya’s grasp, but when her soldiers threaten Snow White’s kingdom, he has to face the Snow Queen again. Freya has taken the magic mirror, which she uses to resurrect her elder sister Ravenna (Theron), thought vanquished by Snow White and Eric. Joining Eric and Sara in their journey are dwarves Nion (Frost) and Gryff (Brydon). Eric and Sara must face off against the troops they grew up alongside, battling the power of the two sisters.

            Any studio wants franchises, and Universal is certainly no different. They’ve struck a goldmine with the Fast and Furious series and a new Universal Monsters universe is poised to take shape, but there’s always room for more cash cows in the herd. Alas, the action-fantasy take on Snow White seems a wobbly basis for a juggernaut franchise. When Kristen Stewart was given the boot, so was director Rupert Sanders, with whom she was having an affair. Replacing him at the helm is visual effects artist Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, The Huntsman marking his feature film directorial debut. Frank Darabont was initially set to direct, but he left before production began.

There are certain neat aesthetic ideas on display in the film and returning costume designer Colleen Atwood outfits Freya and Ravenna in a selection of splendid couture creations. Unfortunately, it all tends towards the generic. Where the plot is concerned, palace intrigue and dissention amongst the ranks against a medieval fantasy backdrop is readily available in more sophisticated and arresting forms elsewhere. Yes, it’s more ersatz Game of Thrones – or ‘Game of Theron’s’, if you will.

We have a good cast making do with ho-hum material – the presence of Blunt, Theron and Chastain in one movie should have far more propulsive impact than we actually get. But first, the titular Huntsman – For all of Hemsworth’s pulchritude and his ropey attempts at a Scottish accent, the filmmakers seem fully aware that Eric is a patently uninteresting character. We gain precious little from learning the character’s back-story, which is tied into that of the female lead, Sara. Chastain has repeatedly proven that she’s a force to be reckoned with and she kicks plenty of ass in full action heroine mode. But when it comes down to it, a mono-dimensional tough chick who’s totally one of the dudes and doesn’t need no man (or so she tells herself) is not that much better than a damsel in distress. In the cut we saw, a love scene between the two was abruptly truncated – puzzling that the censorship board opted to snip stuff out of a PG-13 fantasy flick that had its Singapore premiere in a theme park.

Incorporating the Snow Queen as the villain of the piece was no doubt a result of Frozen’s continued popularity. The Disney animated film couched the character as an anti-heroine, whereas Hans Christian Andersen created the character as more of a villainess. There was a good deal more to Elsa than there is to Freya, cries of “overrated” be damned. Blunt’s talents are wasted; her performance is pretty much a coolly restrained version of Theron’s. She’s not called upon to do very much at all. Speaking of Theron, she was far and away the best part of Snow White and the Huntsman, her ravenous scenery-chewing injecting the dour fantasy action proceedings with considerable excitement. She’s not in this one for very much and the sisterly bond/sibling rivalry between Freya and Ravenna gets insufficient development.

While the effects work involved in shrinking regular-sized actors down to dwarves is as seamless as it was the first time round, the dwarves obviously serve little purpose apart from comic relief and could be excised from the plot without too much consequence. It’s a relief that a fair number of these jokes land.

The action sequences suffer from shaky-cam and choppy editing, so we don’t get to truly appreciate the deadly skill with which Eric and Sara dispatch their enemies. The U.K. locations, including Waverley Abbey in Surrey, Well’s Bishops Palace and Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean ensure the film does not get swallowed up in computer-generated morass. It’s a shame but perhaps to be expected that the spectacle doesn’t soar and the story ends up flat, the film failing to make a case for its existence. A spot of sequel-begging right at the movie’s conclusion can’t help but come off as desperate; Universal might not get its fairy-tale ending after all.

Summary: Star power, intricate costume design and flashy visual effects set-pieces can’t keep this formulaic, mostly listless sequel/prequel/spin-off from leaving us cold.


RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

The Boxtrolls

For F*** Magazine

THE BOXTROLLS

Director : Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable
Cast : Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, Jared Harris, Tracy Morgan
Genre : Animation
Opens : 11 September 2014
Rating : PG
Running time: 100 mins

We know we’re not alone in mishearing the lyrics to Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit as “here we are now, in containers”. Orgeon-based animation studio Laika brings us the story of loveable, misunderstood beings – in containers. Evil, greedy pest exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Kingsley) misleads the residents of Cheesebridge into believing that they are plagued by subterranean baby-eating monsters called the Boxtrolls. The Boxtrolls, so named because they “wear” cardboard boxes, are really harmless tinkerers who collect discarded knick-knacks to build their own amusing doodads. The Boxtrolls raise a baby, whom they name “Eggs” (Hempstead-Wright), as one of their own. An adolescent Eggs discovers the world above and has to learn how to fit in as a regular boy, the precocious Winnie Portley Rind (Fanning) becoming his friend and teacher. Eggs and Winnie have to convince the populace of Snatcher’s deception to save the Boxtrolls from being completely wiped out as Eggs learns how he came to be cared for by the Boxtrolls.


            Based on Alan Snow’s fantasy novel Here Be Monsters!, The Boxtrolls is Laika’s third feature film, following Coraline and ParaNorman. Short of location filming on the surface of the planet Venus, stop-motion animation has got to be the most painstaking way to make a movie ever. With every movement needing to be tactilely manipulated, every tiny costume hand-stitched, every minute prop machined, it’s easy to see why it’s not a commonly-seen form of animation in theatres today. While the stop-motion work in The Boxtrolls is enhanced with computer animation, everything still has that quaint handmade feel to it. The studio manages to marry the old-fashioned with the cutting edge, using 3D printed parts in their puppets. The effort and care taken to craft Cheesebridge, the Boxtrolls’ domain below and all the inhabitants within is readily apparent and is something moviegoers should cherish, standing in sharp contrast with the production line feel of a film like Planes: Fire and Rescue. So, hats off to directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, lead animator (and Laika CEO) Travis Knight and all the artists and technicians involved.

            Just like the two films before it, Laika has wrangled a wonderful, predominantly British voice cast for The Boxtrolls. Isaac Hempstead-Wright, best known as Bran Stark on Game of Thrones, plays Eggs as a sweet, amiable, slightly lost fish out of water – it’s a good performance, though there are times when he can sound a little stiff. Elle Fanning is entertainingly headstrong and off-kilter as Winnie and follows in her older sister’s footsteps, Dakota Fanning having played the title role in Coraline. It is Ben Kingsley who truly steals the show with his rumbling, sneering turn as Archibald Snatcher. Combined with the grotesque character animation (that allergic reaction Snatcher has looks truly disgusting), Kingsley gives life to a vile, despicable villain who recalls the most memorable baddies from British children’s literature. The Child Catcher from the film and stage adaptation of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang seems to have been a major source of inspiration. Nick Frost and Richard Ayoade are expectedly comical as two philosophical lackeys, with Tracy Morgan as the demented third henchman. Also noteworthy are the veteran voice actors who provide the Boxtrolls’ vocalisations, including experienced animated monster/creature portrayers Steven Blum and Fred Tatasciore.

            The message in The Boxtrolls is one we’ve seen before in family films – “different is good”. However, it is articulated in a sincere, charming manner here. The sweetness and fuzziness is balanced with gross-out moments that will have kids going “eww – but yeah!” There’s also some social commentary, with the aristocrats in charge of running Cheesebridge deciding that a giant wheel of Brie is a better use of their money than a children’s hospital and with Snatcher hankering after a white top hat, a symbol of status and power. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of visual invention that Coraline did and it is not as emotional and poignant as ParaNorman, that Laika magic is in full force in The Boxtrolls. Stick around for a mid-credits scene in which Mr. Trout (Frost) and Mr. Pickles (Ayoade) wax existential as the truth about the nature of their very being is revealed.


Summary: Laika keeps the flame of stop-motion animation burning bright with a warm, very funny, beautifully-crafted film, served with a side of the weird and gross.
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
Jedd Jong