TOMB RAIDER (2018)
Reboot finds a young, down and out Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander from Ex Machina) refusing to accept her inheritance by declaring her missing father (Dominic West) dead in absentia. When finally forced to do so, she gets a key and clue that sets her on a quest to find out what happen to him. It leads her to the uncharted island of Yamatai where the mysterious Order of Trinity has Archeologist Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) searching for the tomb of Japanese sorceress Himiko. The woman was said to be of incredible power and Trinity wants use of it. As Lara seeks to find her father’s fate, she must now also find a way to stop Trinity from accomplishing their goal.
Do-over is directed by Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug (Cold Prey, The Wave) from a script by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons and is wisely an origin story that starts fresh after the previous films. It’s also refreshingly down to earth in terms of it’s story telling with Uthaug going back to basics with the action and avoiding the bombastic, over-the-top spectacle that has become the status quo. Some may find the action routine, but it evoked the old fashioned action films before digital software allowed for things to become so much larger than life and in some cases, out of control. The pace is fairly swift with an almost two hour running time and just when it starts to drag a bit, we head into the last act tomb raiding finale. The South African locations look good substituting for a Pacific island and the interiors of Himiko’s tomb are interestingly designed, though with all the previous adventure flicks in this vein, the whole traps and puzzles thing is getting very old hat. Possibly why it’s kept at a minimum. Otherwise we get some solid gun-play and fisticuffs and it makes for an entertaining night at the movies with the hope that this franchise has new legs.
Alicia Vikander makes for a solid heroine as young Lara. Purists may feel her petite frame does not suit the statuesque video game character she’s portraying, but she is quite the spitfire and gives Lara both a strength and a vulnerability that make her more than just megapixels. She does action scenes as good as the boys and was convincing as a young woman coming into her inner adventurer. Walter Goggins is a serviceable enough villain. He could have had a bit more gusto, but they were going for a more grounded approach, so he is not the usual pontificating, cackling villain that most movies of this type feature. Dominic West is fine as Richard Croft in flashbacks, which provide backstory and exposition and Daniel Wu is solid as drunken sailor and Lara’s back-up, Lu Ren. We also get appearances by veterans Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi, as well as, fan favorite Nick Frost.
Overall, this was a solid action adventure that stripped away the over-the-top overindulgence of today’s action films and settled for a more back to basics approach. Alicia Vikander made for a strong Lara Croft and overcame her petite stature with a tenacity and vulnerability that really worked here. The whole tomb of traps and puzzles thing is kind of worn out at this point, but there was plenty of chases, gunfire and brawling to keep us entertained. A fun flick from Roar Uthaug.
Rated 3 bullets.
THE WORLD’S END (2013)
The World’s End is the third film in writer/director Edgar Wright’s ‘Cornetto trilogy’ that feature friends and frequent collaborators Simon Pegg (who co-wrote) and Nick Frost. I like these films though, I don’t quite see them as the comic masterpieces their passionate fan-base does but, I do enjoy them. And much like the other films (Hot Fuzz, Shaun Of The Dead) this is a fun romp where the genuine friendship between these three talents comes through and the good time making the film is evident as you watch. This film tells the story of eternal teenager Gary King (Pegg) who is determined to regroup his band of school buds (Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan) and finish the epic pub crawl in their home town that they failed to complete 20 years ago. He somehow convinces the men, some who are now married, have families and are fairly successful adults, to return to Newton Haven and complete ‘The Golden Mile’ a stretch of road containing twelve pubs in which they each must have a drink. Things start off well enough… at least in Gary’s eyes… but, soon they realize something is very wrong here in their former stomping ground and an encounter with a gang of youths reveals the town has been taken over by alien robots and their very lives may be in jeopardy. But, despite the alien occupation, Gary is determined to finish what they started two decades ago, even if it means battling a town full of inhuman invaders to do it. Edgar Wright is a clever director and it is the cleverness in his mixing of a story of growing older and facing change and responsibility with an Invasion Of The Body Snatchers-esque Sci-Fi tale that makes it work and makes it fun. He creates some very human and endearing characters in his leads who are brought to life by a talented cast including Rosamund Pike as Sam, who is the sister of Oliver (Freeman) and with whom Gary wishes to repeat his previous pub crawl bathroom encounter with. It is the likability of this bunch and their personal growth during this adventure that keeps one from realizing how silly it all is. Despite some amusing action scenes and abundant SPFX in it’s second half, the movie is rooted in this band of middle-aged friends trying to relive days gone by even in the face of an alien invasion. Their bickering over personal issues while being pursued by a town full of robotic alien clones of their old friends and neighbors, is what really makes this flick work despite top notch effects and the well choreographed action. Not everything works perfectly. It takes the film a while to get going and it takes some time for you to warm up to Pegg’s Gary who is basically a jerk but, when the film does start moving it’s a lot of fun and Pegg skillfully makes you not only root for Gary but, feel sorry for him when his personal secrets are revealed. The climax in the alien hive does bring the momentum to a grinding halt, though, it isn’t boring, just stops the action cold and the film does have a somewhat gloomy finale considering the more energetic tone… but, it works and certainly doesn’t ruin the film. All in all, I liked this third and finale (?) chapter in the trilogy but, like the others, I don’t think it’s a classic. It certainly is a bit of a refreshing change from the crude and lazy comedies that Hollywood is cranking out continuously and that is most welcome. Also stars Pierce Brosnan as the gang’s school professor Guy Shepard and a vocal cameo by the great Bill Nighy as the alien ‘Network’.
With The World’s End opening this weekend, I decided to revisit the first big screen film from Pegg, Frost and Wright…
SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004)
Not the masterpiece most fanboys make it out to be, but British flick Shaun Of The Dead is an amusing horror comedy with a twisted sense of humor and some some excellent gore effects. The film mixes the laughs and horror well enough (which isn’t easy as most horror/comedies fail) and actually is a pretty decent zombie film even without the jokes. Simon Pegg plays Shaun, a slacker who yearns for more yet, can’t quite get off the couch to go for it, despite pressure from his pretty girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield). When a zombie apocalypse breaks out, Shaun finds the hero within when he’s forced to take action to save his girl, his mom (Penelope Wilton) and their friends.
Frequent collaborator Nick Frost, in the lovable loser role, plays Shaun’s best friend and bad influence Ed, and the two play off each other very well and their reactions to each other come across as very natural (they are friends in real life). The rest of the supporting cast, including the great Bill Nighy, back them up nicely and all come across as real people not quite able to deal with what’s happening. The group turns to Shaun to guide them as he seems to be the only one with a plan, even if it is only to get to the local pub and wait things out. Director Edgar Wright wisely gives plenty of clever props and nods to the zombie films of George Romero, which clearly influenced Shaun, but while making the movie all his own. The flick has it’s share of flaws though. It is a bit predictable as we know how it’s going to all wrap up as we’ve seen the ‘slacker does good/wins the girl’ story many times before. Frost’s Ed was a bit annoying to me in the earlier scenes and I kind of sided with those who don’t like him much. He has some funny bits and again, he works well with Pegg and the two are fun to watch once the film gets going, but I wasn’t as endeared to the character as others seem to be. Also, some of the scenes of Shaun being lectured by those disappointed in him get tiresome quick. We get the point. He’s lazy. In fact I find the stuff before the zombies show up to be a bit dull and, ironically, the film only really livens up when the dead show up, but maybe that was the point.
Not quite the great movie it’s made out to be, but a fun ‘Saturday night with a few beers’ flick and one of the better horror comedies of the 2000s. An enjoyable flick and a lot of fun, but a bit overrated in the context of all the fuss that’s made about it.
3 fun zombie fighting friends!