“Tomb Raider,” three stars out of five. In theaters.
Run through the jungle. Jump over fallen branches. Land in a raging river. Approach a waterfall and try not to go down it. Fight off a bad guy. Find a safe place to hide.
This is the plot of the latest reboot of a popular film franchise based on a video game. And like the Angelina Jolie-starring series, another supporting actress Oscar winner, Alicia Vikander, is sporting the signature tank top and ponytail of Lara Croft with a clean-cut objective – figure out what happened to her father (Dominic West) when he disappeared seven years ago.
Serving as an origin story with the hopes that another franchise is born, Lara is a young adult who is not ready to say that her father is dead after he didn’t return from one of his “business” trips. She instead lives modestly as a courier who makes the streets of London her extreme sport playground. As her father’s business partners and her guardian (Kristin Scott Thomas) pressure her to accept reality, a note from her father leads her to his secret mission to find the supernatural to connect with her deceased mother.
This leads Lara to a dangerous wonder of searching for an island that holds an ancient evil that if unlocked could devour the world and send it into chaos. Paired with her father’s captain’s son Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), Lara goes on her first, real adventure.
I hadn’t seen the Jolie versions or played any of the video games, so I approached this movie purely as a newbie. All I knew about the differences between the films were the physical differences between the pixel version, the Hollywood starlet and the former dancer-turned-actress (thank you, sexist fanboys, for your swallow online outrage). However, I am familiar with video game storytelling and mechanics, and “Tomb Raider” keeps those familiarities in tact throughout the film. Very, very few characters, including the main baddie Mathias Vogel (the overacting Walter Goggins), have ulterior motives or even a hint outside their personality zone. Lu Ren is stationed in the friend’s zone for so long that the zone itself is bulletproof.
And while the main attraction, the actual tomb raiding, was a hot mess, the movie overall was fun to watch. As Vikander is venturing away from the period pieces like “The Danish Girl” and “The Royal Affair” that got her notice and testing the waters of action flicks, it is good to see her having a good time in a purely popcorn movie. Honestly, there should be more movies of women pulverizing bad guys and it not seem like an abnormality.
“Assassin’s Creed,” half-star out of five. Streaming on HBO until April 30.
Is the saying, “I’d rather watch paint dry,” familiar to you? In watching “Assassin’s Creed” one night, I was so bored that I started a craft project – repainting some figurines to create whimsical bookends. I skillfully coated two plastic giraffes with metallic gold paint for a couple of minutes as I watched two of my favorite actors, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, discuss the meaning of the Apple of Eden and how Fassbender’s character’s ancestral line had something to do with it. I figured it would be a boring part and that my eyes would lift up when the scene improved. It never did.
Fassbender is Callum Lynch, the offspring of two members of the Assassin Order who is executed for murder, only to be brought to a mysterious center where Dr. Sofia Rikkin (Cotillard) is working to rid the world of violence. Her father, Alan (Jeremy Irons), has other ideas as Cal could possibly lead them to finding the Apple for a rival sect. They tap into the memories of Cal’s ancestors for clues.
Unlike “Tomb Raider,” I have played one of the many entries of the “Assassin’s Creed” universe – 2012’s “Assassin’s Creed III.” I purchased it once I heard that Fassbender was going to star and produce a movie version of the game. I was intrigued by the gameplay, the historical research and the storytelling. However, I really stink at sandbox games like “Assassin’s Creed.” I never even made to the point I was playing the character that appears on the video game’s cover. After this release, Ubisoft was criticized for releasing more “Assassin’s Creed” titles with similar storylines and little new gameplay each year.
Yet, I had high hopes that the movie would break the video game curse, especially with Fassbender and Cotillard reuniting with their “Macbeth” director Justin Kurzel. Like me, “Assassin’s Creed” doesn’t make it past its title card. Its moodiness, its misplaced treks to 1490s’ Spain to recover the Apple of Eden and moves taken directly from the game like the boldness the video game series is known for. It is very much an extended cut of the first one or two levels of the game with game trailer footage used for the action sequences.
I stared at my craft project, waiting for the gold paint to dry so that I could add another layer. Actually seeing the piles of foam brushes, paint-filled palettes and drop sheets on the floor was more entertaining than watching three highly acclaimed actors perform with the effort of a character of “The Sims.” What was missing a glowing, green plumbobs atop their heads.
What’s sad is that Ubisoft was also behind this film, so the source material was never neglected. However, creativity and enjoyment were. I think I should return to my giraffes now.