“Tomb Raider,” a reboot of the film series based on the popular video games, follows the same plot structure as 2001’s “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” But it’s a much better film because, quite simply (that’s easy to say on paper), it takes itself more seriously. This is perhaps a reflection of what audiences want nowadays. At the turn of the century, substance-free actioners were common – and boy are those two Angelina Jolie films light on substance and heavy on silliness — but now filmgoers appreciate a veneer of seriousness.
In the new entry (now available for home viewing), the casting of Alicia Vikander – already known for her acting chops in “Ex Machina” and elsewhere – is our first hint that this is no joke. And the fact that she got completely ripped to play Lara Croft is a visual cue that this is a genuine attempt to make something worthy of the archeological adventure legacy of “Indiana Jones.” Vikander’s Lara is believable as someone who could endure the trials of this globetrotting journey, but she also has an air of vulnerability. Unlike Jolie’s version, this Lara is an Everywoman – at least at first.
Writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons and Evan Daugherty work from a stock template, which I find acceptable for the first entry in what will hopefully be a series. The 2001 “Lara Croft” might be the only film in history where a missing and presumed dead father isn’t treated as a mystery but rather as a fact. The remake takes the more traditional (but also more satisfying) tack of centering on the father-daughter bond between Richard Croft (Dominic West) and Lara. Our heroine seeks out her father on a remote Japanese island where he went missing seven years ago.
“Tomb Raider” is an origin story, so when Lara achieves a remarkable feat of athleticism there’s a sense that’s she’s realizing her own strengths; we aren’t joining her at a stage where she’s cocky and near-invulnerable. Lara loses a practice boxing match in the opening scene in London, where she works as a bicycle courier despite being heiress to the Croft fortune (signing the papers would make her dad’s presumed death seem official). In flashbacks to her childhood, Lara hones her archery skills.
Director Roar Uthaug delivers robust action sequences, including a high-seas shipwreck on the rocks similar to that from 2005’s “King Kong.” Later, Lara attempts to free a camp of prisoners like she’s a cross between Katniss Everdeen and Rambo. It might not be real-world believable, but it’s easily video-game-movie-standards believable, and Vikander is easy to root for. Lara looks completely badass peppered with cuts and covered in grime.
The film also makes room for levity. A thrilling sequence finds Lara perched on an ancient crashed plane, which is precariously balanced atop a waterfall. After leaping from two pieces of the plane that break off, the creaking and groaning starts again. “Really?” she asks the universe.
A weakness of “Tomb Raider” is that the villain, Vogel (Matthias Goggins), works for an Illuminati-type group, Trinity, which aims to take over the world. Yawn. However, an epilogue where Lara officially takes over the Croft companies personalizes Trinity and sets up the sequel.
Also in the second film, I’d like to see more relationships for our heroine. This entry hints at a London lad with a crush on Lara, and she also hits it off with ship captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu). But perhaps this series could also work well in the “Indy” format of having new sidekicks each time around.
At any rate, as the foundation for a saga, “Tomb Raider” is rock solid.