Though it is highlighted by a charismatic performance from lead Alicia Vikander, the long-awaited reboot of the “Tomb Raider” film franchise lands with a drab thud.
The film has its moments of excitement, but its dogged effort to return its beloved main character to a prototypical version in order to recreate her origins strips away much of the swagger and savvy that made her such a … well, such a badass.
Without that essential element in play to establish tone, the proceedings just aren’t as fun to watch.
What’s it about?
“Tomb Raider” begins by introducing audiences to a Lara Croft who has never once raided a tomb. At 21, she’s undisciplined, unfocused, and unwilling to accept that her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), is dead after having disappeared seven years before.
Pushed into signing off officially on Lord Croft’s passing, Lara finds herself suddenly bequeathed with a clue about his whereabouts, as well as a secret life he led away from the global Croft business empire.
Those clues, in turn, lead her halfway around the world, following in the elder Croft’s footsteps as he raced to find a burial site of ancient Japanese origin and prevent whatever was buried there from ever seeing daylight.
But the young Croft isn’t the only one searching for the burial site and the power promised there by the legends. To prevent that power from being unleashed upon the world, Lara will be tested unlike ever before, not just to solve mysteries and puzzles, but simply to survive.
Vikander up to the task
Whatever faults this new “Tomb Raider” may have tonally or structurally, Vikander proves she’s more than up to the task of bringing Lara Croft to life as a compelling action hero.
More importantly, she shows her capacity to carry a film from start to finish, as this film has her in just about every frame, telling its story through her eyes. The demands are both physical and emotional, and Vikander’s effort to bring the character’s difficult personal journey within the narrative to life is one of the film’s bright spots.
However, it’s the film’s approach to that personal journey that arguably deprives this “Tomb Raider” of the capacity for fun that made the “Lara Croft” films of the early 2000s such memorable, if campy, action yarns.
Where’s the fun?
Yes, this is an origin story, and yes, it makes sense that young, inexperienced Lara wouldn’t exactly be ‘Lady Croft,’ the character Angelina Jolie brought to life previously.
But that character’s savvy, sultry swagger, the mischievous gleam in her eyes when they weren’t hidden behind the iconic sunglasses, is what made movie audiences fans of the character in the first place. They’re as much a part of the fun in the elaborate mayhem Lady Croft got herself into and out of as the puzzles and deathtraps themselves.
To be fair, “Tomb Raider” does hint at the potential for those qualities in Lara – it doesn’t deprive the character of them entirely, and perhaps future entries in the franchise (which there no doubt will be) will show more of them off. But diminishing them as much as this production does is like sending her into battle with only one of her signature pistols.
Gamers at the very least should be pleased with how much of the 2013 “Tomb Raider” game that breathed new life into the franchise makes it into this film. While the film’s story does diverge significantly from the game, director Roar Uthaug and the film’s screenwriters include enough of the game’s locations and details to make clear where their inspiration came from.
However, that leads to perhaps the most apt comparison one can make about this “Tomb Raider” as a viewing experience for the casual viewer. It’s like watching somebody else play a video game they clearly love – sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s cool, but it’s just not as fun as maybe playing the game yourself.
Starring Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu and Kristin Scott Thomas. Directed by Roar Uthaug.
Running time: 118 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some language.