Movie Review: Tomb Raider

The series gets a reboot with a more down to earth hero

Tomb Raider
Directed by Roar Uthaug
With Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi

Characters from the classic video game Tomb Raider return to the big screen in a reboot of the franchise. Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander (for 2015’s The Danish Girl) takes over the iconic role of Lara Croft, which was played twice by Angelina Jolie in the early 2000s.

For people who stopped playing the game a while ago, some of the story elements might seem strange. The new film is based on the rebooted game from 2013, which in some ways was more modern (aka less sexist) than the previous versions. Lara Croft has a different look and a new origin story.

The new Lara Croft in the rebooted film is more athletic looking and dresses a lot more practically than the previous incarnation, which had Jolie as eye candy in a padded bra and hot pants.

Alicia Vikander’s Lara is also much more charismatic than her predecessor. Early scenes show her training in a gym but not faring so well against an opponent, making her seem a bit more vulnerable. She is also shown to be clever and resourceful, as well as self-reliant.

The film actually spends quite a bit of time on character development before plopping her into the adventure and escape filled plot.

When the film begins, Lara Croft is not yet an accomplished international adventurer. Despite her family being quite wealthy, she has chosen to live rather humbly working as a messenger. Her father, Richard Croft (played by Dominic West in flashbacks), vanished seven years ago and she is reluctant to declare him legally dead so she can claim her inheritance.

She then encounters a clue that sets her off to search for an island in the Devil’s Sea off of Japan, which her father suspected had the tomb of a semi-mythical queen who had some magical powers. She hopes to find her father or at least learn what happened to him. Her earnest drive to find out about her father, rather than seek a treasure, adds to her likability.

The adventure part is fairly derivative of similar films, dating back to Raiders of the Lost Ark and its many clones. But while it pales a bit after the promising opening scenes, it still holds up enough to make the reboot worthwhile.

The action scenes, especially Lara’s narrow escapes, have a slightly toned down feel compared to other video game films. We know from the early scenes that she is not a top-notch fighter, but she is brave. The perils being more grounded in reality help add to the suspense. She doesn’t break the laws of gravity as much as other video game heroes, and she manages to get wounded quite a bit.

Still, it is hard to avoid the sense that many of the booby traps, puzzles and other gimmicks have been done before. A bit more creativity would have pushed Tomb Raider into the top ranks.

She encounters a villain, of course. Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) has something to do with a group bent on some plot to dominate the world, but he just wants to find the legendary tomb so he can get off the island.

Goggins, who naturally has a slightly crazed look in his eyes, has a long resume of evil characters. He takes a pragmatic approach, not going over the top but still showing no sense of compassion. The Vogel he shows us is a weary man who is evil because that is what works to accomplish his task.

In minor roles, Kristin Scott Thomas turns up as Ana Miller, who has taken care of Lara as well as Richard Croft’s business interests since Richard vanished. Derek Jacobi — still remembered for I, Claudius back in the 1970s — has an even smaller role as a lawyer. One might assume they will return in sequels with a bit more to do.

Norwegian director Roar Uthaug has previously worked on much lower budget films. The horror film Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt) was widely praised and is set to be remade in English. The Wave, about a tsunami, was Norway’s submission for Oscar consideration in 2015 but it was not nominated.

His experience perhaps explains Tomb Raider’s overall lean and efficient approach to the genre. The budget for this reboot was actually less than the budgets for either of the originals, which were shot 15 or more years ago when the dollar went a bit further.

Tomb Raider is a solid start to a new franchise. It does not reach the level of the Marvel comic book films, but it is better than most of the DC inspired ones, except Wonder Woman. It also is much more successful than Universal’s attempt to start a new franchise with The Mummy.

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