Updated: Feb 6, 2020
In 2001, the popular videogame Tomb Raider was adapted into a big, Angelina Jolie starring, summer action movie, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. That film did well enough to inspire a sequel, 2003’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life. Then, due to a combination of critical and commercial disappointment (and Jolie declining to do a third one), the franchise went away. Now, the videogame series has been rebooted and reenergized and MGM and Warner Bros. are trying to do the same thing with the film series. Thus we get Tomb Raider, starring Alicia Vikander (the 2016 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for The Danish Girl) as Lara Croft, an entertaining reboot with some solid action, a fast pace and a star good enough to carry the film past the duller aspects of its production.
The story in brief: When we meet Lara Croft she is working as a bike courier and struggling to make money. She was very close with her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West, co-star of Showtime’s The Affair), a very successful businessman who disappeared seven years earlier. All Lara would have to do is sign a paper saying that her father is dead and she would inherit his fortune. But she refuses, much to the consternation of her father’s associate, Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas, who played Winston Churchill’s wife in Best Picture Oscar nominee The Darkest Hour). However, Lara then stumbles upon her father’s secret: he was actually a world-travelling adventurer. This leads her on a dangerous adventure to learn what happened to her father.
The story is the usual nonsense found in movies like this. It is not very interesting. The characters are not developed particularly well either. But the movie is reasonably fun to watch because Vikander is genuinely exciting as Lara Croft. Whether it is during a dialogue scene or while running from bad guys, she exudes an intelligence and charisma that makes the character more interesting than she probably was on the page. Since none of the other characters have much going for them, this is extremely helpful. Her Lara Croft seems like a stock heroine, but Vikander adds a lot of energy and passion to the role. She is easy to sympathize with, which is helpful during the action scenes.
Since neither the plot nor villain (Walton Goggins’ single-minded Mathias Vogel) are particularly compelling, that puts a lot of pressure on the action scenes. And they are pretty good. They work mainly because I liked Lara and wanted to see how she was going to survive her various predicaments. There is nothing groundbreaking, but the action is well-executed and exciting. There is an early bicycle chase that was very good and some fight scenes where Lara uses her cleverness and athleticism instead of pure violence. The screenplay (by Geneva Robertson-Dworet (this is her first screenplay, but she has seven projects in various stages of production, including an adaptation of the comic Captain Marvel) and Alastair Siddons) does a good job of making the action about the story instead of the story about the action. This way, Lara is fighting for a reason. It is a little thing, but it adds a sense of purpose to the bigger set pieces.
Tomb Raider (111 minutes, minus the end credits) is exactly what I had expected, though not quite as good as I had hoped. It is a decent popcorn movie with some good action and a solid lead performance from a very good actor. But, as a franchise starter (which it certainly aspires to be), it leaves a little bit to be desired. I do not really care about the world that Tomb Raider introduced. However, I was entertained while I was watching it and I would not mind seeing Alicia Vikander play Lara Croft again. I suppose that is good enough.
3¼ out of 5
Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft
Dominic West as Lord Richard Croft
Walton Goggins as Mathias Vogel
Daniel Wu as Lu Ren
Kristin Scott Thomas as Ana Miller
Derek Jacobi as Mr. Yaffe
Directed by Roar Uthaug
Screenplay by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons