Tomb Raider (Roar Uthaug, 2018) 2½ out of 4 stars.
This weekend, seventeen years after the 2001 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, the movie-going public files into the theaters to watch Academy-Award winner Alicia Vikander’s new portrayal of the iconic video-game character Lara Croft in Roar Uthaug’s Tomb Raider, co-starring Dominic West, Walton Goggins, and Daniel Wu. It seems every year a film based on a popular video-game property is released to not only set up a new film franchise but to test the slowly degrading willpower of the audiences who pray for the one video-game movie that works. Sadly, Uthaug’s Tomb Raider isn’t the answer to these prayers, but it is led by the stellar Alicia Vikander and her new take on Lara Croft is a fantastic addition to the new rising lineup of cinematic heroines.
With no interest in a massive inheritance or the responsibility of running a company, along with her denial of her missing father’s presumed death, Lara Croft is a young woman trying to live apart from the looming shadow of family legacy. Lara’s carefree life as a bustling bike courier on the streets of London is halted when she discovers documents and messages from her father, detailing the history of a mythical Japanese queen and the evil company known as Trinity, which will do anything to harness this queen’s destructive powers. Lara doesn’t waste any time and sets out to a once forgotten Japanese island with the help of a drunk sea captain played by Daniel Wu, to be reunited with her father once again.
Much like her 2013 video-game counterpart, Vikander’s Lara Croft is a new-age explorer, cuts and bruises included. We’ve seen Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft (in 2001) and other adventure characters like her (i.e. Indiana Jones) take multiple beatings and keep going as if they were mere annoyances. This ridiculous trope is usually forgiven by most audiences because it is part of the territory of larger than life action movies.
Uthaug’s decision to allow Lara to experience the painful wounds of fist punches, jagged rocks, and whacking tree branches creates genuine concern for her safety, thus grounding her in reality. Vikander’s wonderful free-spirited attitude and impressive physicality endears her to us from the get-go and lends credibility to her participation in the action sequences in the second and third acts.
Tomb Raider’s story is as disposable as they come and what little we learn of Trinity’s motivations doesn’t move past the initial setup. Thankfully, Lara and her relationship with her father, played by Dominic West, is the film’s true heart and helps it stand apart from being an average action-adventure. Walton Goggins’ Mathias Vogel, a loyal member of Trinity, is the villainous antithesis to the organization’s overly broad evilness, and Goggins plays the role as competently as you would expect. It is unfortunate the script fails to provide the substantial antagonist Vikander’s Lara Croft deserves. Instead, Goggins’ role turns into the typical bad guy found in Saturday morning cartoons.
Tomb Raider is an entertaining entry in the video-game genre. Is it the best entry? Yes, but only if you keep in mind that this film’s competition is laughable at best. Subtle humor and the strong cast divert your attention away, just as clichéd story beats and weak characterization rear their ugly heads. Alicia Vikander is the butt-kicking hero you long to root for and secretly want to be in your dreams. She leaps into the action genre and sticks the landing, flawlessly. Tomb Raider is only the beginning of Alicia Vikander’s future as an action mainstay.