Departing from the painfully unwatchable original films, Alicia Vikander ushers the “Tomb Raider” franchise into a new era as the lead, Lara Croft, in director Roar Uthaug’s fantastical adaptation of Crystal Dynamics’ popular video game series.
“Tomb Raider” follows Lara, the aimless, rebellious daughter of a long-missing adventurer, who must solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance and finish the dangerous work he started, no matter the risk.
“Tomb Raider” is Uthaug’s first English language film, as well as his first major studio production, and cowriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons also have little experience.
The central creative team’s collective inexperience comes across clearly in the film’s lackluster production, and the film struggles substantially with the stakes. Siddons and Robertson-Dworet’s script never adequately explains the great threat against which the protagonists struggle, thus leaving the viewers struggling to care for them.
The action scenes are similarly tired and uncompelling, either putting the film’s eponymous star in perilous situations in which every viewer knows she will prevail or following choruses of nameless extras through dizzyingly paced and over-edited gunfights, robbing the scenes of any tension or audience investment. The most effective action scenes are those that rely on restraint: A scene in which a single bullet was fired proves more exciting and terrifying than the film’s massive shoot-outs.
Fortunately, this outing in the “Tomb Raider” franchise steered away from the campy, challenge-free action of the 2001 film, in which Lara is seemingly invincible, with the battles leaving little effect on the heroine. In this reboot, branded as grittier and more realistic, the characters are affected by the action, imbuing it with some stakes. By the movie’s midpoint, Lara is bruised, bloodied and exhausted, showing the impact of all she has been through, which in turn prevents the audience from engaging in her struggles.
What truly sold the threat of Lara being in any danger was the credibility and honesty displayed by Vikander. Convincingly tough yet vulnerable, Vikander is the ideal Lara Croft. Vikander trained intensively for the role, putting on a good deal of muscle to do her own stunts, and the dedication paid off — her well-executed choreography pairs beautifully with the palpable emotion she displays in every frame.
While Angelina Jolie’s take on Lara in 2001 felt affected and forced, as if her sole motivation in every scene were to appear as sexy and cool as possible, Vikander makes no effort to be cool — which makes her all the cooler. With charm, confidence and sincerity, Lara carries the film on her strong and more than capable shoulders.
Dominic West as Richard Croft, widower businessman turned adventurer, provides the emotional core of the film. Fans of West know him primarily as a morally dubious antihero, such as in his role as the de facto protagonist of HBO’s seminal classic, “The Wire,” but here, he effectively captures the upright, loving, paternal Richard. “Tomb Raider” marks the second time that West and Vikander play father and daughter, following 2014’s “Testament of Youth,” and that history is revealed through touching scenes that beautifully capture the love between a father and daughter.
Daniel Wu, as Lara’s love interest Lu Ren, is substantially less compelling. For the most part, Ren is given next to no character development and very little to do; his purpose in the film is to help Lara and flirt with the tomb raider when the script requires. The former use of the character feels contrived, and the latter falls flat due to the stark lack of chemistry between Wu and Vikander.
Mathias Vogel, the film’s primary antagonist played by Walton Goggins, is a chilling presence, but only for half of his screen time. The script slings Vogel between coolly menacing and manically overeager. These quieter moments are imbued with tension unrivaled by any of the fast-paced action that makes up much of the film. Vogel is also a very timely character in an era when powerful men are finally being held accountable for sexual harassment or assault. In his first meeting with Lara, Vogel’s overly sexualized behavior towards the young woman felt all too redolent of the encounters that have engulfed Hollywood.
While a marked improvement from the original films, “Tomb Raider” is a well-acted but ultimately unexciting action movie. This video game adaptation will not challenge its audience or provide any real substance, but it provides a fun bit of escapism into an action packed world of adventure.