I must start this review by saying that this film marks my first experience with the Tomb Raider franchise—I don’t play video games, and my second-hand impression of the Angela Jolie films (including that she wore a breast prosthesis to approximate the pornstar dimensions of the video game character) did not encourage me to check them out. But I’d go to see Alicia Vikander in just about anything, and her presence plus the fact that the current film is directed by Roar Uthaug, who also directed 2015’s Wave, convinced me to take a chance on it.
I’m glad I did. No one would mistake Tomb Raider for great cinematic art, but it’s entertaining and hits all the right notes for a summer movie based on a video game, with a cast that’s better than you would expect given the origins of the franchise. Above all, Alicia Vikander is great in the title role, showing both physical ability (as a child, she trained as a ballet dancer as well as an actress, and it shows) and emotional depth in a franchise reboot that sets the stage for many sequels to come.
When we first meet her in this film, Lara Croft (Vikander) is a rebellious young woman working as a bike messenger in London and trying to ignore the fact that she’s heir to a substantial fortune. Her father Richard (Dominic West) disappeared five years ago, and Richard’s business partner Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas) wants Lara to sign on the dotted line to claim her inheritance. Following some hijinks including a “don’t try this in real life, kids” bike chase through a densely urban section of London that ends with a crash involving a police car, Lara comes to her father’s office and finds a series of clues that set her off on a quest to follow up on the quest he was pursuing when he disappeared.
Plausibility is not even an issue in this kind of film (it’s full of improbabilities like electronic goods with batteries that appear to hold their charge indefinitely, to say nothing of the physiological improbability of much of the action), so there’s no point in questioning the series of events that bring Lara to Hong Kong. There she hires Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to try to retrace her father’s quest, only to be shipwrecked and then rescued by Mathias Vogel (Walter Goggins). He who works for an evil corporation named Trinity who is after the same thing her father was seeking (something about finding the tomb of a Japanese empress who was reputed to hold the power of life and death). Lots of stuff happens, with lots of action sequences, which is exactly what you would expect in this kind of movie.
Another reason I never felt the need to check out the original series was the title. Seriously, “Tomb Raider”? Who would watch a video series whose lead character whose job is apparently desecrating the resting places of the dead? Since I haven’t seen them, I don’t know how that issue was treated in the video games or the first run of movies, but in this film, it’s clear that some things are better left undisturbed. Also heartening–in this film there are consequences for those who obey the call of money and ego rather than observing the kind of basic human decency and respect that makes it possible for us to coexist in peace.
I’m scoring this Tomb Raider a win. It’s fun to watch, sports a great physical heroine (just contrast the way Vikander runs, even in obvious green screen shots, with typical “girl running” in films), and offers enough of a new spin on an old genre to make it a worthy summer action film. | Sarah Boslaugh