Tomb Raider ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Roar Uthaug.
Written by: Geneva Robertson-Dworet & Alastair Siddons.
Starring: Alicia Vikander (Lara Croft), Dominic West (Lord Richard Croft), Walton Goggins (Mathias Vogel), Daniel Wu (Lu Ren), Kristin Scott Thomas (Ana Miller), Derek Jacobi (Mr. Yaffe), Hannah John-Kamen (Sophie), Nick Frost (Max).
A part of me admires the new Tomb Raider, which is, of course, a completely unnecessary and unasked for reboot of a movie franchise that died 15 years ago, and hasn’t once been brought up in a conversation since. All those years ago, it was Angelina Jolie as the ass-kicking, brilliant Lara Croft, who had to shoot people and solve puzzles in equal doses. Now it’s Alicia Vikander, who turns out to be shockingly perfect for the role, and carries the movie much farther than she should be able to. Throw in decent action direction by Roar Uthaug (getting his wish that was evident in his 2015 Norwegian film The Wave – which was to come to Hollywood to make big studio movies), who is refreshing more inspired by the likes of Spielberg than most current action directors, who seem to want to be Michael Bay for some reason (if you want to be generous, say Paul Greengrass instead). All this carries the movie farther than it should, considering how poorly plotted the film is, and how any character not named Lara Croft is basically one dimensional. Still, for this type of film, it’s better than it probably should be.
When the film opens, Lara isn’t the globe-trotting, ass-kicking, puzzle solver yet – but a young woman living in London, still angry at her father (Dominic West) for disappearing seven years previous. She could have him declared dead, and get a boatload of money out of the deal – he was very rich – but instead, she prefers to be poor – making her living as a bike courier (an early highlight is a terrific bike sequence with Lara as the fox in a fox hunt). But soon, Lara discovers a secret room of her fathers, full of research on Himiko – a Japanese queen, with secret, deadly powers. The video her dad left tells her to destroy everything about Himiko and move on with her life – so, of course, she does the exact opposite. She ends up teaming up with a drunken boat captain, Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), whose father also disappeared along with Lara’s, to travel to the remote, uninhabited Japanese island their fathers were travelling to all those years ago. What they find there is scary – not least because of Vogel (Walton Goggins), who has been stuck there for years, trying to find Himiko’s tomb, and whose bosses won’t let him leave until he does.
The film is basically a 1980s style action adventure film in the Indiana Jones vein, with Vikander proving herself to be a wonderful action star. Her chiseled body is admired throughout the film, but not in a creepy, leering sexual way. The same goes for her relationship with Wu’s Lu Ren – they have instant chemistry, but it’s not sexual – he’s not there to be a love interest, but their respect for each other is mutual. Throughout the sequences on the island, Vikander has to run, jump, swim, fight and shoot a bow and arrow, all of which she does so with style and grace. She even manages to sell the films more badly manipulative emotional moments, by not overplaying them. An Oscar winner for Ex Machina (what’s that you say, she won for The Danish Girl – sorry, you’re wrong), Vikander is proof that sometimes having a great actor in the lead role of an action movie can go a long way to saving it.
Basically though, the film eventually wears out its welcome. The film is rather obviously plotted, and really does drag to a halt whenever the characters have to sit around and talk about what’s happening, what just happened, or what will happen. Characters who are not Lara often get good introductions, but then the film doesn’t do much with them – witness the way they shunt Lu Ren to the side once they reach the island, in favor of Goggins’ villain – who makes a big impression in his opening scenes, and then not much afterwards.
Yet, when the film is basically Vikander and action sequences, it works just about as well as a film like this could. Yes, you can tell it’s based on a video game, because it kind of has that structure to it. But those moments work well enough that I’d look forward to another Vikander action vehicle – even a sequel to this – much more than I did for the second Lara Croft movie with Jolie all those years ago.