The quest for the first genuine blockbuster video game movie continues. Starring Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander, Tomb Raider tries its best to be faithful to the action games that spawned it while trying to prove itself on a grand cinematic stage. Unfortunately, through a few glimmers of solid material at the start the film ultimately flounders in the latter half removing itself from real-world tangibility and falling into CGI-fueled hokum suffocating this franchise before it has had a genuine chance to breathe. Action fans may find it too rote to be adventurous and video game fans may wish they were simply playing the game instead. Warner Brothers brings Tomb Raider to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in terrific order. With a video transfer that easily leaves behind its standard Blu-ray counterpart and the same fantastic Atmos mix, if you're a fan of Tomb Raider, this 4K UHD release is the best way to experience the film. Worth A Look.
Hollywood has long been in the hunt to make video games like comic books - the next big super blockbuster cinematic franchise event. Unfortunately, most video game film adaptations have shifted from the wretched Uwe Bowl films like Postal and House of the Dead to the stupidly fun Street Fighter to the unintentionally hilarious while being awful Super Mario Bros. Somehow Hollywood just hasn't figured this market out. Hopes were high when Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander signed on for Roar Uthaug's reboot Tomb Raider, but alas the hunt for the perfect video game movie continues. While taking a page from the 2013 reboot game, this new Tomb Raider plays things so close to video game plotting and action mechanics that it numbingly feels like you're watching your best friend play a video game for two hours without letting you get a turn at the controls.
Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is slumming it. Raised with immense wealth and privilege courtesy of her father Richard (Dominic West), she gave everything up when her father went missing during an expedition to find the mysterious deadly tomb of Himiko. Feeling abandoned by her only surviving parent, Lara scratches a living as a bike courier in London. When compelled to sign a death certificate by company manager Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas) or lose her family fortune forever, Lara accidentally discovers a clue to her father's location. Lara must confront her personal demons and the maniacal exhibition leader Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) if she's going to solve the deadly mystery of the tomb of Himiko and learn the truth about her father's fate.
On paper, Tomb Raider should work. There is a lot going for it. The character dynamics are great. The casting is perfect. The action setpieces are outstanding. The skeletal framework for a genuinely successful Hollywood action adventure movie and the first truly successful video game movie is there. Unfortunately, the film fleshes everything out with tried and true tropes from better movies and video games we've already spent countless hours playing through.
The problem is an overwhelming sense of familiarity. As I watched through Tomb Raider I felt ten paces ahead of the plot at all times. The mechanics of what is happening had been so thoroughly telegraphed several scenes ahead so that when anything interesting or exciting looks like it's about to happen, you already know how it's going to play out.
Not helping matters is the over-reliance on what's already been done. We've already seen the basic Lost Parent/Spurned Child plot of this film and the mechanics of the mysterious tomb in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. We already played all of the action sequences in previous video games. When the deadly zombie plague is revealed, it wasn't a surprise. I knew it was going to happen because that's exactly what game studio Naughty Dog did with Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.
Familiarity is one thing, but the real bummer of how Tomb Raider turns out is that it squanders its otherwise solid first half. We get to know Lara when she's young, untrained, tough, but emotionally wrecked. Think a more playful, less dramatically inclined Batman Begins. This is an inexperienced young woman before we see her fully become the Lara Croft we know and love from video games past. It's a solid start for an origin but once that A plot kicks in and we get to know Kristin Scott Thomas's Ana Miller and Mr. Yaffe played by Derek Jacobi, it's obvious this film is but a stepping stone in a story arc designed to span a franchise. Who these people really are is hardly a mystery given their impressive stature as actors who don't need to appear in a movie like this for nondescript cameos. There's a bigger game coming. Turning things to Walton Goggins - the man proves time and time again he can be menacing without needing to crank the dial to 11. He just needs to look at the camera and you know he's not messing around. Had the film used him better than being little more than the middle management equivalent of a villain, his presence alone almost could have saved this film - or at least given fans something to look forward to in future installments.
Action beats can be effective - when they're real. A lot was made of Vikander getting into fighting shape for this film and, when she's allowed to do that, it's visceral and effective. But when the film goes full CGI spectacle the action becomes weightless and comical complete with impossible Legolas leaps and jumps against CGI backgrounds and sets. It looks and sounds like a video game, but as a film, it plays too literal and feels like a series of game cut scenes without letting the audience control the action. Which is the saddest thing of all about Tomb Raider, It was almost there, it was almost a great video game movie. Instead, it was an okay movie that made me wish I was playing the video games.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4k Ultra HD Blu-ray
Tomb Raider swings its way onto 4K courtesy of Warner Brothers in a two-disc 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital set. Housed in an eco-friendly two-disc case with identical slipcover artwork, the disc loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. The default audio track is the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, you have to select the Atmos mix in the audio options before starting the film. The included digital copy can not be redeemed through Movies Anywhere, only through Warner's direct portal or through Vudu.
Tomb Raider makes full use of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray format. Sourced from a native 4K digital intermediate with Dolby Vision (and HDR10 for those without DV), this disc easily leaves its SDR Blu-ray counterpart behind. I was very impressed with the improvement in clarity and details as I felt the 1080p presentation did a pretty good job. But now, all of the finest of fine facial features, Goggin's beard, Dominic West's shaggy face and the speckles of dirt and debris that stick to various cast members are readily apparent and look terrific. Smaller details in the production design work also make a richer appearance here, especially Richard Croft's secret underground research lair.
Everything gets even sweeter when Dolby Vision is employed. Colors and flesh tones look fantastic with primaries given the extra pop. The Color Puzzle setpiece looks particularly impressive as it's a defined single source of bright color against a black/gray background. Contrast and black levels also earn extra refinement allowing the image to maintain a strong three-dimensional presence even during the darkest of scenes. The fight in the jungle at night between Laura and a nondescript minion looks a lot better with a better sense of space and detail restored.
Unfortunately as before with the 1080p transfer, the 3D-designed CGI action spectacle setpieces suffer. Where they looked a bit rough around the edges in 1080p, at 2160p with HDR, they look pretty bad. Anytime the stunt CGI Vikander takes over for the real actress as she falls into a river, jumps off a sinking boat, or catches a parachute - it looks painfully obvious. Overall that's a small quibble as the rest of the image is first rate and a real treat for 4K enthusiasts.
Tomb Raider is blessed with a strong and thundering Dolby Atmos audio track that leaves behind the included DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. To be fair, the included default 5.1 track is pretty good with clean dialog and solid surround activity. But the Atmos mix just does everything better. The extra spacing around the channels gives a better sense of depth and atmosphere around the elements. Busy London streets sound amazing as Vikander zips through traffic on her bike. Likewise, when the action moves the cursed Jungle Island of Doom, there is a notable improvement in sound effect resonance over the 5.1 mix helping you feel like you're right in the thick of the action.
The dialog is clean and clear throughout without any issues. The score by Tom Holkenborg sounds like a combination of his better elements he brought to Batman v Superman and Mad Max Fury Road and lends itself nicely to the big action beats. All around this is a great action audio track that should give your sound system a good and thorough workout.
Tomb Raider arrives with an anemic assortment of bonus features. Nothing too impressive here but they give you a small look behind the scenes of the making of the movie. All bonus features are found on the included Blu-ray disc.
Tomb Raider: Uncovered (HD 7:06) This is your typical EPK feature with the quick sound bites as the cast and crew discuss the film and its origins tied to the 2013 reboot game.
Croft Training (HD 6:06) Another brief EPK feature, this shows how Vikander got into shape for the film.
Breaking Down The Rapids (HD 5:34) A quick look at how they achieved the primary action sequence of the film with Lara flowing down river rapids with her hands tied and jumping onto a rusted-out Japanese WWII bomber.
Lara Croft: Evolution of an Icon (HD 9:53) This is a look back at the games that spawned the film.
Tomb Raider may have taken itself as a video game movie too literally. Fully steeped in the plot and action of the 2013 reboot game, this cinematic reboot does little new or exciting with the material squandering a great cast featuring Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Daniel Wu, and a fun turn from Walton Goggins. It's not an altogether terrible film, on the scorecard of Video Game movies it's better than average, but also suffers from a pronounced sense of mediocrity. The hunt for the perfect blockbuster video game movie adaptation continues. Warner Bros. digs up a technically impressive Ultra HD Blu-ray with a 4K-sourced Dolby Vision HDR transfer and a splendid Dolby Atmos audio mix. If you're a fan of the games there's something to enjoy here. If nothing else it's a solid two hours of diverting entertainment. Worth A Look.