Tomb Raider is an uninspiring hodgepodge of clunky CGI effects and poor storytelling. But it does have one saving grace that is the most important attribute by far. Oscar winning actress Alicia Vikander is a Lara Croft to believe in. She makes the character real, not a buxom video game vixen. Vikander adds humanity and depth to essentially a cardboard cutout. The previous film iterations of Tomb Raider with a sexualized Angelina Jolie were popcorn spectacles with an invulnerable lead. Vikander reboots the franchise with realism. She just needs a better vehicle for her talent.
Tomb Raider opens in London with Lara Croft eeking out a living as a bike messenger. She’s turned her back on her wealth. Expressing her anger and frustration by getting beaten to a pulp at boxing gyms. The seventh anniversary of her father’s (Dominic West) disappearance forces Lara to confront her past. She must sign legal documents to declare her father dead, and finally acknowledge his passing.
In his will, Lord Richard Croft leaves Lara a Japanese puzzle. They were her favorite gifts as a child. The puzzle gives a tantalizing clue to his fate. Lara leaves her inheritance behind and travels to Hong Kong. She must find the man that took her father to a mysterious island with a deadly secret. What awaits her is far more dangerous and surprising than she could have ever imagined.
The direction by Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug (The Wave) is plodding. Tomb Raider lacks sizzle, feels unoriginal. It plays out as expected with the requisite big action scenes and sidekick characters. It’s almost as if everyone just wanted to get this movie done so the real adventures can begin. The third act in Tomb Raider is very similar to the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The difference being that movie was interesting, while this one goes through the motions. Uthaug is collecting a paycheck here. He clearly had no enthusiasm for the film.
The action scenes are CGI heavy and don’t integrate into the narrative. I am a huge fan of the 20th anniversary edition Tomb Raider video game. It had tremendous game play set in a lush, jungle setting. The film attempts to recreate this, but it just doesn’t look good. These types of effects need to be seamless for believability. The raging water scenes, falling through the jungle, and the hidden temple look too computerized. A lot of money was spent to produce this film. It’s strange to me that the visual effects are lackluster. Chalk another demerit for Roar Uthaug.
Now that the bad has been discussed, let’s extol the virtues of Alicia Vikander. She plays Lara well at the nascent stage. She’s not an ass-kicking, gun-toting heroine yet. Lara gets hurt, feels pain, and is afraid. You can see the fear in Vikander’s eyes when Lara is first threatened with a gun. She is horrified when she has to kill. Vikander is extremely fit, but not hulking or intimidating in any way. Her Lara Croft is played as an actual woman in extraordinary circumstances. She’s deadlier at the film’s conclusion because the character has grown. Vikander’s next outing as Lara Croft will be ferocious.
From Warner Bros., Tomb Raider is exactly what the trailers promised. We’re introduced to the new Lara Croft with very little else going for it. At two hours, the film is not substantial enough to warrant that runtime. I didn’t like the movie, but was impressed by Alicia Vikander. Now that the groundwork has been laid, the inevitable Tomb Raider sequel has a chance to be great. The studio just needs to find a director and screenwriter more capable with this type of material.