Tomb Raider (Roar Uthaug, 2018). I saw both films that cast Angelina Jolie as adventurer Lara Croft at the time of their original releases, and I don’t remember a second of either one. I suspect the same fate awaits Tomb Raider, the recent attempt to launch one of the most famous video characters into a sustained movie franchise. With an antsy, trite back story about mysterious parental abandonment helping to drive her, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) sets forth on a series on tests with the promised prize of the magical riches to be found in the final resting place of an ancient queen feared for her command of magic. With laughable ease, Lara bests all manner of puzzling contraptions meant to be elaborate guards against interlopers. Norwegian director Roar Uthaug galumphs his way through the material, bringing a level of craft that rarely rises above the level of blandly serviceable.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (J.A. Bayona, 2018). Although I acknowledge it’s the faintest of praise, I moderately enjoyed the much-maligned 2015 Colin Trevorrow film that revived the popcorn entertainment franchise about cloned prehistoric creatures teaching modern man a bloody lesson about hubris. The eager dopiness of the Jurassic World made it play like a nice throwback to the heyday of summer movie season (as opposed to the current release calendar that accommodates high concept blockbuster wannabes year-round). Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom doubles up the stupidity and drains the compensating joyous verve. Director J.A. Bayona has a strong visual sense, but his creativity is blunted by the machine he’s climbed into. There are clever twists on the theme here and there, but the film also indulges in off-putting gimmickry and narrative sleight of hand meant to boost tension. The whole endeavor is numbing.
Red Sparrow (Francis Lawrence, 2018). Jennifer Lawrence reunites with the director of three-fourths of her Hunger Games money presses for this adaptation of a 2013 spy novel that was the first of a trilogy. Red Sparrow follows a Russian ballet dancer named Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) who sustains an injury that ends her performing career, but still allows her to transition to a new career in sex-soaked espionage. The novel was released the same year that The Americans debuted, but the film suffers from a timing that makes it seem like a weak echo of the exemplary television series. Where The Americans boldly and intelligently examined the psychological wounds sustained by those who turn their whole beings over to clandestine service for the state, Red Sparrow sits immersed in the fetid salaciousness without stirring the waters in the slightest. This comparison is especially true — and especially damnable — in the depiction of sexual manipulation of the part of the agents, which comes across as painfully naive in its blithe disregard for consequences. Lawrence still flashes a charisma that’s hard to deny, especially in those moments when contempt flares in her eyes. Even she can’t elevate a film this dreadful and dull.