While I’m not sure it was entirely necessary to reboot Tomb Raider as a possible new movie franchise, at least Alicia Vikander makes a pretty convincing Lara Croft.
The Tomb Raider game definitely has a cinematic narrative. The original 1996 game centered on the wealthy British archaeologist Lara Croft, who would go around the globe in search of artifacts, solving seemingly impossible puzzles, navigating traps and battling foes in deep, dark tombs and ruins. It was definitely a Raiders of the Lost Ark/Indiana Jones for gamers but with a kick-ass female hero, one of the first. Lara Croft is an icon in the gaming world.
When in 2001 Paramount decided to turn the game into a movie called Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, it made sense. Then, when they hired Angelina Jolie to play Croft, it was a stroke of genius because not only did Jolie look the part, the actress took on the physicality of the role with gusto and became a major action star moving forward. Although not the most stellar of action movies, Jolie was pretty badass as Croft, and so it made money. The 2003 sequel Cradle of Life, however, did not and thus the franchise died.
Now, Warner Bros. has picked up the reins to give us a new and improved Tomb Raider movie, which is based on the 2013 iteration of the game. In this reboot, Croft (Vikander) lives in London and works as a delivery girl for a local restaurant, riding around the streets on her bicycle. She also likes to train in the boxing ring but doesn’t always have the money to pay for the gym costs.
What we quickly find out, however, is that Lara is indeed an heiress to Lord Richard Croft’s (Dominic West) fortune. It’s just not something Lara wants to accept because her father disappeared four years prior and for her to take on the Croft name, global business and money would mean she’d have to sign off that her beloved dad is dead. She’s not ready to do that.
The first half hour or so of the movie is actually one of the best parts because Lara is instantly more relatable than her predecessor. Vikander excels in this area, handing us a feisty, independent young woman who lives for the adrenaline but who is also wounded by the fact Richard wasn’t there much when she was growing up (after her mother died) and is now haunted by his disappearance.
The action then escalates from there. Lara discovers a clue that leads her to a secret project Richard was working on, the one that always kept him away. Something to do with keeping an ancient Egyptian sorceress’ tomb, buried deep on a deserted island, undisturbed because whoever finds her “essence” will gain the unspeakable power to destroy the world.
To be honest, the rest of the film turns into a pretty standard action-adventure without much innovation. Sure, there are some seat-gripping action sequences, which Vikander deftly handles – and she shows more of the pain than Jolie ever did, grunting and screaming a lot (which I guess is what Lara does in the game, too.) Norwegian director Roar Uthaug, who directed an excellent little disaster thriller in 2015 called The Wave, doesn’t fall down on the job by any stretch. He crafts the action well, and fans of the game should appreciate the callbacks (like Lara and the rotted out WWII bomber plane). But overall, nothing too spectacular to report, with even some of the special effects a tad too cheesy.
As for the other characters, Walton Goggins plays Richard Croft’s partner who betrayed him and is still trying to unearth the tomb because his “bosses” want him to, a secret organization of some kind (is there any other kind?) who wants its hidden power. He has one really good scene with Vikander, but the rest of the time, his talents are wasted. As is Daniel Wu, who plays the captain of the boat Lara charters to get to the island and who becomes an ally.
I still say Tomb Raider as a game has some inherent qualities to make a good movie, but in order to pay homage to it, the filmmakers still seem to forgo a solid script in order to concentrate their efforts on the action that’s tied to the game. Vikander is the lone stand out in this scenario because she makes Lara far more human than in the previous films. All props to Jolie for giving fans their fierce Lara Croft, but Vikander is far more emotional, and she adds much more to it. When Vikander’s Lara is struggling with losing her father or having a tense confrontation with Goggins’ villain, it just enhances the times she’s kicking ass.
If this Tomb Raider warrants a sequel – and it might because they set it up to – let’s hope they come up with a tighter, more worthy story for their star. Vikander can handle it.