“Tomb Raider” is a median movie, straight down the middle. It’s neither hot nor cold, good nor bad. It’s perfectly so what.
Based on the videogame series of the same name, this is actually the third adaptation of that source material. The original “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” from 2001 starred Angelina Jolie and was a “B” movie that was as over-the-top as the enhanced cleavage Jolie sported for the film.
This “Tomb Raider” is a bit more grounded and takes its main character, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), seriously. Here, she’s more person than icon, not the highly sexualized (though, she still is sexualized, more on that later) kick-ass pin-up queen that Angelina Jolie (or the original video game character) was. Instead, this Croft is lithe, athletic, not always in control and not quite as cocksure. She’s more human, and that makes her a little more interesting.
She’s also younger, on her first adventure. Yes, this movie is that dreaded buzz word, a reboot.
Lara, the heir apparent to a vast family empire following the disappearance of her adventurer father (Dominic West), scrapes by as a bike courier in London. Avoiding it for years, she finally, reluctantly signs her inheritance papers (doing so would declare her father legally dead). Along with the company’s assets, she also receives a puzzle box. Quickly decoding it, Lara follows a trail of clues to an intriguing mystery. Her father was racing against a nefarious organization to reach the Tomb of Himiko when he vanished. Himiko, legend has it, could kill with just a touch, and the nefarious organization hopes to weaponize whatever it finds inside the tomb. With Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), the son of a boat captain who also disappeared with her father, Lara embarks on an adventure to an island off the coast of Japan in order to find her father, solve the mystery of the tomb, and keep its contents away from the mysterious organization.
The movie has a good pace, doing a fine job of connecting its various plot points quickly, while giving just enough time over for back story. And it’s always making sure to have something action-y for its Lara to do. There’s a quick kickboxing match early on, a bicycle chase in the streets of London, and a foot chase through the docks of Hong Kong, all before Lara gets to her main adventure.
But there’s a rub, of course. The action isn’t very exciting. It’s all competently staged and filmed, but none of it’s particularly inspired. There’s no energy to the sequences and they aren’t particularly inventive or clever. Aesthetically, they’re hampered by too much coverage, too many cameras shooting the action at the same time, with far too many cuts to each vantage point. We don’t need to see three different angles of Lara swinging from one part of a dock to another, do we?
The only reason, really, to spend any time with the movie is Alicia Vikander. She’s great in the role of Lara Croft. The Oscar winner, for best supporting actress two years ago, is fully committed to the role. She’s believable in her fights and various daring-dos and finds a nice balance between the serious and humorous sides of the character, not overplaying either one. You don’t get the sense that she’s doing this solely for a paycheck, either, or that she feels like the material is beneath her.
And yes, of course, she is beautiful, which the movie highlights, though not as obviously as its predecessors. But while her cleavage isn’t the film’s raison d’etre this time around, it’s hard to imagine that all of Lara’s many yelps, screams, and cryings-out-in-pain, are there simply for the sake of realism. At one point, she’s having a wound stitched together without pain killers, and at the end of it she leans her head back and screams, but it sounds less like pain and more like an orgasm. And it’s all lit by the gauzy, romantic flames of a nearby fire, warmly highlighting her open mouth, glistening strands of saliva stretching between her teeth, and ached expression, an expression more akin to the throes of ecstasy than the grimace of suffering. So, maybe Lara’s sexualization is not as obvious this time around, but there were still more than a few people unwilling to get up immediately after the house lights come up in the theater.
Between Alicia Vikander, Walton Goggins, who nicely underplays his role as the antagonist, and a couple of fun action moments (Lara escaping a waterfall through the remains of a crashed airplane and subsequent escape from the dilapidated vehicle itself is a highlight), “Tomb Raider” isn’t awful. If you’re into the video games, this should be a decent time waster. It’s not dour, and it doesn’t fall into self-parody like the other “Raider” films did, but, at the end of the day, it’s not much fun either, and not very memorable.