Why isn’t Tomb Raider just titled Lara Croft? It’s like if Wonder Woman were referred to as Lasso Twirler. This heroine, after all, is the one that resourcefully runs, boxes, arrow-shoots, barrels, kicks, cycles, pushes and pulls her way out of trouble and saves the world from destruction. Give her some top-line credit.
As played by Alicia Vikander, Lara is also the best part of a perfunctory and skippable action movie. The lithe 28-year-old Swedish actress not only had the daunting task of playing a flesh-and-blood version of a video game icon, she was preceded in the role by the buxom, ultra-alluring, fellow Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Angelina Jolie. She acquits herself well — er, well enough — in making the part her own. By comparison, Vikander’s Lara is more gritty than domineering, vulnerable than defiant, cool than bad ass. She feels pain. She has an aura of innocence about her, even when she’s frantically parachuting into the great unknown. Though the actress’ Bambi doe eyes probably account for that.
Though she’s technically not a superhero, Lara gets her own origin story in Tomb Raider. (Note: The tale is based on a 2013 version of the game.) She’s introduced panting in a local gym boxing ring as she spars with another female fighter. Both are wearing a sports bra and shorts, their chiseled six-pack abs and biceps and tanned legs fully visible. If you already guessed this movie was directed by a man, you’d be . . . right! (Norweigan director Roar Uthaug did the honors.) Anyway. She’s a cash-strapped courier in her native London, reluctant to take a dime from her beloved father’s vast trust fund. If she signs the legal documents, it means admitting that this legend of man, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), is truly gone.
He’s not, of course. After Lara makes a secret discovery, she enacts Plan B: Follow his trail East to find the tomb of a mystical, monstrous Japanese death queen named Himiko. (It’s a convoluted story that dates back centuries and I can tell your attention is waning.) She enlists the help of a drunken fisherman in Hong Kong (Daniel Wu), as all aristocratic heiresses are known to do. Upon finally arriving to the remote island, she encounters a villainous man named Vogel (a bland Walter Goggins) who’s also in search of the tomb. He gives himself credit for killing Lord Croft and insists he is dead. He’s not, of course.
Lara fends for herself in these unforgiving surroundings via a series of relentless stunts and obvious CGI effects. I counted six chase sequences, two of which take place before Lara meets the bad guy. Despite the exotic location, the various set pieces generally lack suspense. Escaping from a fragile, skeletal airplane about to disintegrate over a waterfall is a doozy; running and leaping in a single bound is a snooze. And after four Hunger Games movies, I do believe it’s time to retire the shot of a heroine using a bow and arrow to dispatch heartless enemies in the chest.
I wish Uthaug had injected a bit of fun into his movie. Lara exclaiming “really?!” to herself in between her 25th and 26th time evading death is as humorous as it gets. Reality check: These people are trying to decipher if a supernatural queen is really cursed and capable of destruction. A little levity isn’t going to kill anyone. The director’s attempts at humanizing the characters also fall off a cliff. The flashbacks between Lord Croft and young Lara are treacly at best and never move the emotional needle. And quality British thespians Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi are wasted in cameos.
Tomb Raider sets itself up neatly for a sequel. Part II needs to switch gears and hone in all the crowd-pleasing thrills that come with an A-level adventure franchise. Think Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Marvel movies. Jumanji. Otherwise, the film should stay buried.
Tomb Raider opens in theaters on Friday, March 16
Also published on Medium.