Lara Croft isn’t just one of the most recognizable female heroes in pop culture, she’s also easily one of the iconic video game characters of all time. Angelina Jolie brought the character to somewhat successful life in two prior Tomb Raider films, helping escalate her rise to an A-list starring actress. But after years of the character slowly fading into the video game history, Square Enix hit paydirt with their grounded and gritty reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise on modern game consoles that was just begging for a big screen adaptation.
So here we are with a new Tomb Raider film franchise, and off to a smashing start with the casting of the immensely talented Ex-Machina star Alicia Vikander in the title role. If there’s anything to praise about this new iteration, it’s Vikander’s performance in the role. The story loosely adapts the first installment in the rebooted game franchise and sees a young pre-Tomb Raiding Lara Croft discovering her calling while searching for her missing father. Vikander really steps into the role and is tough as nails from the get-go, while showing off her newly shredded physique as she trains in hand-to-hand combat at a local gym and earns income as a bike food delivery person.
Lara’s missing father (Dominic West) had previously established a business empire, leaving Lara the sole heir after spending the majority of her youth exploring the world for signs of the supernatural in hopes to find proof that he could one day be reunited with Lara’s departed mother. But being as hard-headed as her father, Lara refused to sign the papers to gain access to the fortune in fears of admitting her father was indeed dead and not just missing. When her financial situation becomes too dire to ignore, she agrees to accept the inheritance but instead finds a relic left by Lord Croft that sends her on global adventure for answers and perhaps a reunion with her long lost father.
The issues with the film obviously aren’t the star, but in its surroundings full of script problems and paper thin supporting characters. Tomb Raider takes far too long to really get moving, including a very long portion taking place before Lara even leaves on her adventure. The entire first major action sequence involves a bicycle chase through city streets that’s an okay action set piece – but for a different film. Fans want Lara Croft, you know, Tomb Raiding, not remaking 80’s cheesetastic bike classic Quicksilver.
While I did knock the paper thin supporting characters, the studio at least tried to put extremely solid character actors in the roles to inject some life into the non-Lara Croft characters. The great Walton Goggins brings his particular brand of creepy charisma to the one-note villain Vogel. Daniel Wu manages to hold his own onscreen next to Vikander as her boat captain sidekick/partner, which is no easy task. Dominic West probably fares the worst as Lara’s father, who gets downright silly at certain points of the film, despite the actor’s tremendous talent.
While the film cherry-picks certain elements of the rebooted video game, it unfortunately mashes it up with tons of far weaker ideas to make a condensed, predictable two hour film. That certainly is frustrating for game fans, but the film thankfully nails the tone and brutal pace of the island action beats when Lara is in true danger. Vikander/Lara are tossed over cliffs, smashed on jagged river rocks, dangled off airplane wreckage… it’s intense and exactly what the film needed more of.
Tomb Raider as a film slightly succeeds thanks to its fantastic lead actress and some white-knuckle action sequences ripped straight from the rebooted game franchise. Sadly though the script doesn’t also take full advantage of the source material and mucks up the story with unnecessary garbage. But the good news is Vikander rocks as Lara Croft and the studio would be crazy not to have her wield the dual pistols for as long as they still try to make Tomb Raider films.