Tomb Raider, a reboot of the would-be action franchise based on the popular video games, is clearly angling to distance itself as much as possible from the more cartoonish movie series that petered out 15 years ago after only two films starring Angelina Jolie as the globe-trotting adventurer Lara Croft. The producers signal their intent to take a distinctly different route with the casting of Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, who recently won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in The Danish Girl (2015). With her soft features and big brown eyes, Vikander is like the action heroine-as-girl next door, and she looks nothing like the Lara Croft of the video games, whose anatomical exaggerations and ridiculous clothing choices (hot pants and twin gun holsters, anyone?) made her the exemplar of absurdist adolescent male fantasy.
Taking its cues from the 2013 video game reboot, this new Tomb Raider is both more realistic in its depiction of Lara Croft and also functions as a kind of prequel, exploring how she came to be a tomb-raiding adventurer. Unfortunately, the screenplay by relative newcomers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons (from a story by Evan Daugherty and Robertson-Dworet) is a mostly tired rehash of familiar story beats and largely uninteresting backstory. Norwegian director Roar Uthaug (The Wave) and cinematographer George Richmond (The Kingsman: The Golden Circle) give the film an effectively gritty look, but they never quite manage a consistent or coherent tone; it veers wildly from over-the-top action antics, to a grim scene in which Lara is clearly traumatized after drowning a henchman in a muddy puddle. Yet, there is little time for reflection or even consideration of what has happened because the story is so eager to bum-rush us to the next plot point or action sequence.
The film opens with Lara living in London and making a meager living as a bicycle courier despite the fact that she is eligible to inherit billions of dollars from her corporate CEO father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), who disappeared seven years earlier. Lara refuses to sign the paperwork to declare him legally dead, despite pressure from her father's business partner, Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas). Instead, she finds a hidden room in the family mausoleum that reveals Richard's secret life as an intrepid adventurer who was looking for the tomb of the mythical sorceress-queen Himiko when he disappeared. Despite a recorded message telling her to destroy all his research, Lara instead uses it, and with the help of a boat captain named Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), she tracks him to the remote island of Yamatai off the coast of Japan. There she also discovers a competing group of mercenary raiders led by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) looking for the tomb on behalf of a shadowy group known as Trinity.
If the film's goal was to make Lara a more interesting character by exploring her early life, it fails quite miserably, despite a generally good performance by Vikander in a role that gives her precious little with which to work. Vikander, who made such an impression as an artificial intelligence robot learning how to be human in Ex Machina (2014), makes for a sympathetic heroine, but there isn't much depth to Lara, and she is denied the fierce mystery and campy appeal that Jolie brought to the character back in the early 2000s. This is a more "serious" take on the character, which means that there is decidedly less humor (although a heavily bearded Nick Frost has an amusing cameo as a belligerent pawn shop owner). There are a few good action sequences to keep things interesting, including a nifty bit in which Lara finds herself dangling from the decaying remains of a crashed bomber straddling a raging waterfall, but by the time the film is deep into its second hour, the overall lack of intrigue and charm makes it feel like a long, heavy slog to the end credits.
Copyright © 2018 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © Warner Bros. / MGM
Overall Rating: (2)
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