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Movie Talk: Tomb Raider (2018) and Pacific Rim Uprising (2018)

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Who would win in a fight between Lara Croft and a giant robot?

Dan Jensen reviews the two biggest action movies out right now — the rebooted Tomb Raider and the sequel to Pacific Rim.

Tomb Raider

Directed by Roar Uthaug (2018)

IT'S FAIRLY COMMON knowledge that movies based on video games don't achieve greatness at the box office. When you look at past entries to the genre, such as Street Fighter, Warcraft, Resident Evil and Assassin's Creed, you'll notice that none of them performed well with either the critics or audiences. It's become something of a joke among film fans that there will never be a decent movie based off a game and, knowing this, coupled with the long list of past failures that ranged from terrible to guilty pleasures – films that are bad yet still somewhat enjoyable – one would think that the studios would increase their efforts to produce something great and break the curse.

Enter Norwegian director Roar Uthaug's Tomb Raider, based on the 2013 rebooted game and parts of its sequel – both excellent – and starring Academy Award-winning Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, stepping into the battle-worn boots left by previous Lara Croft, Angelina Jolie. This film is an origin story of adventuress Lara, its first act focusing on the character before she ever raided a single tomb and works as a bicycle courier in between rounds of kickboxing at the gym. We're given the information we need to get to know her quite well here: she's resourceful, can take a punch and has an adventurous nature.

After our introduction to Lara, she's presented with the unfinished quest that her father had left behind and despite being asked to destroy all of his research she decides to continue his work. This involves going to an island near Japan to find the tomb of a queen who had supernatural powers, while a man named Mathias Vogel uses Lara to help him find the tomb in order to use it for sinister purposes. All of this sounds great on paper but, sadly, as a film, it joins the list of its predecessors and is nothing more than a cinematic snooze fest.

After the intriguing first act, once Lara takes on her father's path and embarks on her first adventure, this film offers nothing exciting or memorable and, instead, opts to adhere to the numbers to give us a generic and forgettable action flick riddled with cliches. Such as, I'm not sure we really needed another scene of someone watching a videotape announcing: "If you're watching this it means I'm already dead."

There's no question that Vikander makes a terrific Lara Croft, not only looking the part and accomplishing stunts believably, but also delivering a great performance. Here's a girl who knows how to emote with her eyes and draw the audience on her side. But, sadly, no matter how great an actress she is it means nothing when the script is so below average. The game this movie is largely based on had some thrilling sequences, interesting characters and a far better transition of Lara from ordinary girl into bad gal killing machine. Why this film couldn't achieve the same thing is anyone's guess.

Once scene, in particular, that was a stand-out in the game was when Lara is forced to make her first kill. It destroys her inside and changes her; the player left shocked at the emotional breakdown of her character and the transition into a reluctant killer. This new movie tries to capture that moment but fails, even Vikander unable to fully rattle the audience.

And speaking of bad guys, the lead villain in this is played by Walton Goggins – one of those actors you look at and say: "He looks familiar, what else has he been in?" – a great actor but sadly given a character shallower than an inflatable pool. There's no layers to him and he's merely there to be an opposing force to Lara. But, given that this movie delivers nothing much in the overall story department, it would almost be a waste to have a well-developed villain.

Another thing that would have made this movie better would be some clever puzzle-solving — another staple of the games. It's quite shocking just how easily the few puzzles were solved in the film, Lara breezing through them with zero effort. Turn a few stones around et voila! Problem solved. There weren't any significant obstacles for her to overcome. No memorable action sequences. Everything looked great and I give credit to the cinematography, which was superb, but again, it just wasn't enough to make this a good film.

In the end, is it worth it? While not the worst movie I've ever seen, it could well be this year's biggest disappointment, especially since I've been a huge fan of the game series since the first one was released in 1996.

One thing I will admit, the very end of the film did leave me hoping the inevitable sequel will be better, possibly even making this origin tale more worthwhile. It can't be too difficult to craft a great story with such an iconic character, so here's hoping the makers of part two get it right next time.

My score: 4/10 — a great looking movie let down by a forgettable and formulaic story.

Pacific Rim Uprising

Directed by Steven S. DeKnight (2018)

The first Pacific Rim film was released in 2013 and, despite being directed by cinematic maestro Guillermo Del Toro, it didn't exactly set the box office on fire. Sure, the movie has its fans but this reviewer always considered it a movie I liked but didn't love.

Along comes the second installment, set ten years after the events of the first one, where giant monsters known as Kaiju entered our realm through an interdimensional portal and were defeated by giant, human-piloted robots called Jaegers. We're introduced to Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Elba's character from the first story and played by the incredibly charismatic John Boyega. Despite his father being the saviour of the free world, Jake is a rebel and a thief — basically the polar opposite of everything his father stood for.

In the first act, we're also introduced to a young scavenger named Amara, played by newcomer Cailee Spaeny and, once the pair's paths cross, they're thrust into an adventure, where the Jaeger project needs to come out of retirement as a whole new threat – which is somewhat like the old threat – is looming over the planet.

This sequel was directed by Steven S. DeKnight, who has done a lot of work writing and directing some of the most acclaimed television shows around, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville and Daredevil. This is his first feature film and his background in TV is evident here, but not completely in a bad way. The characters have a lot of comedic lines, the action is plentiful and the pacing is tight, although it does suffer from a lot of movie stereotypes and predictability.

The main attraction in this film for me was the chemistry between Boyega and Spaeny, playing two characters who are reluctantly put together on a journey that bonds them tight; every scene they had together was highly enjoyable. John Boyega, most famous as Finn in the latest Star Wars films, is an actor who will probably never win an Oscar, but he's perfected the role of the likeable everyman. Cailee Spaeny was also terrific, delivering an engaging and believable performance in a film about giant robots and monsters and I'll be following her career with interest.

But let's face it, most people who go to see this movie want action and plenty of it. Pacific Rim Uprising won't disappoint fans of CG-heavy action, with buildings crumbling, explosions galore and not only robot vs monster, but this time we're treated to robot vs robot. I won't deny being thoroughly entertained by watching two giant heavyweights duking it out in the middle of Sydney, nearly every building being turned to rubble in the fray. The CG effects here are absolutely top-notch, and I had no trouble suspending disbelief and being drawn into the imagery.

But while there's enough action to appeal to the inner child in all of us, the movie did suffer from some issues. For starters, there are a few scenes of heavy exposition which make you feel like reaching for the fast forward button in order to get to the next fight, or any scene featuring Boyega and Spaeny together. It also gives us some terribly cliched characters drawn straight out of a hundred other movies, such as the group of fresh pilot recruits itching for battle and spouting one-liners to remind us how tough they are. Scott Eastwood, son of legendary Clint, is here as the leader of the group — a strict hot shot who initially butts heads with Boyega's rogue, although I'll give credit to the fact they put a twist on this dynamic by having them work out their differences fairly early on. Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are back in this film as the R&D science geeks, but even though their characters played an integral part of the story, their comedy schtick was a little grating. However, the main area in which the film suffered was its final act, where the big bad just didn't seem big or bad enough. Naturally, there's a final fight to save the world, but I never felt as though the stakes were really all that high. Sure, there was spectacle, but no real substance.

Overall, I found the film entertaining enough. Definitely worth seeing on the biggest screen possible and, if you're a fan of the first one, I'd say there's no doubt you're going to have fun with the sequel. Just don't go in expecting too much, although I don't know why you would with a movie about giant robots saving the world.

My score: 7.5/10 — not the sort of movie you're going to rush back to see again, but worth it for a fun time at the movies.

Dan Jensen is a filmmaker and avid movie fan. You can find more of his movie reviews on his YouTube channel at Movie Talk.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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