Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is trying to make her own way in the world. She delivers food via bicycle for a service and studies mixed martial arts at a neighborhood gym; however she is falling behind on her bills and an effort to win a bicycle race against the other delivery people at her job lands her in trouble with the police. Lara is the heir to a massive fortune since her father Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) disappeared seven years earlier but she refuses to sign the papers that would declare him legally dead. While in police custody Lara’s former guardian Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas) comes to bail her out and encourages her to sign the papers as she also works at Lara’s father’s company. Showing up at her father’s offices the next day Lara is about to sign the papers when she is given a Japanese puzzle box. Distracted, Lara plays with the box and solves it causing a secret compartment to pop open. Inside is a photo of a young Lara with her father and a note wrapped around a key. Lara realizes the note is a clue to what the key fits and leaves the offices without signing the papers. She goes to the Croft estate and enters the family tomb where Lara unlocks a secret door that leads to an office. Inside she finds lots of artifacts and boxes of her father’s notes along with a camcorder. The tape in the camera is a message for Lara telling her to destroy all his notes involving Himiko and warning her of an organization called Trinity. Going against her father’s wishes Lara studies the maps and figures out the location of an island that was her father’s final destination: An island off the coast of Japan that doesn’t appear on any map. Lara approaches Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) a ship captain whose father took Lord Croft on his final voyage and also disappeared. When they get close to the island a storm destroys their ship and both are captured by a group of men led by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). Vogel is looking for something on the island and can’t leave until he finds it. Lara has the information to take Vogel to the very thing Lord Croft didn’t want discovered.
The history of video game-based movies is littered with horrendous efforts to cash in on a popular title. The granddaddy of these stinkers is “Super Mario Bros.” from 1993. No one involved in the production has very good memories of it. According to co-director Rocky Morton the script they agreed to direct was vastly changed when shooting began, turning it into a production nightmare. Clearly nothing like that happened in the creation and production of “Tomb Raider” as it is a very workman-like creation with the requisite number of action scenes, emotional moments and stunning realizations. It’s perfectly fine but not terribly special.
Alicia Vikander makes a very good Lara Croft. She is able to carry off the attitude and the swagger we expect from our favorite tomb raider. While there were some fanboys whining on the internet about Vikander lacking certain physical attributes (specifically large enough breasts) to make her a believable Croft those complaints are mainly from those that judge women on an impossible scale of physical beauty. I hope since she doesn’t live up to their standards that they stay home and don’t subject themselves to having to look at her. I for one think she is perfectly fine to look at. Vikander’s performance has to be somewhat tempered since she isn’t the Lara Croft that we were introduced to when Angelina Jolie took on the role in 2001’s “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” That Lara had been going on adventures for some time prior to the start of the movie so she was in full explorer mode from the get go. Vikander’s Lara is just learning about all the adventures and danger so she makes mistakes and takes a while to figure out the puzzles that stand between her and for what she’s searching. From the standpoint of introducing the character of Lara Croft, “Tomb Raider” does a pretty good job.
The villain and the quest are what let the movie down. Early on we hear about an ancient Japanese queen that made blood run in the streets and her tomb is what is being looked for. While Lara’s father sounds the alarm about finding the tomb the whole notion of this as the goal of an international conspiracy seems a bit silly. Of course all quests in video games are silly on their face and become more so when transferred to a movie screen; however it is the job of a screenwriter to come up with a story idea that makes sense in the modern world. The supernatural mumbo jumbo espoused in the first half of “Tomb Raider” is delivered with neither intensity nor conviction. It undermines everything that happens once the action moves to the island.
When I say the villain lets down the movie I don’t mean Walton Goggins. Goggins is a great actor with a long resume of great performances as a bad guy and he does the best he can with an underwritten and rudderless part. Goggins’ Vogel is never truly let off the leash to show what a murderous maniac he is. Efforts are made to make Vogel a sympathetic villain with a couple of references to his wanting to get off the island and see his kids. It doesn’t work as it makes Vogel seem more whiny than determined to succeed and go home to his family. The script has Vogel commit the required heartless murders of a tyrant as he forces his slave labor to work with little rest or food but Goggins seems to be just hitting the beats and doing the minimum. While his performance starts with some quiet menace as he talks with Lara right after her capture it quickly runs out of steam. While I have no pity for Vogel I do feel sorry for Goggins as he is clearly trapped in a poorly thought out character.
What follows is what I like to call me thinking too much about minor stuff in a movie. A couple of characters sustain fairly serious injuries during the course of the film as one might expect with lots of jumping and falling and shooting and such. Lara gets a branch impaled in her side and Lu Ren is shot in the shoulder. While Lara’s injury gets some attention it is largely ignored after that. Lu Ren’s shoulder is never mentioned after we are shown him holding the injury just after being shot. I know it is a well-worn trope that main characters receive injuries that would put anyone else in the hospital for a couple of days but they manage to live with and even thrive despite the damage. Having two characters suffer such injuries makes this tired bit of story mechanics stick out all the more. End of rant.
“Tomb Raider” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and some language. There are numerous shootings and fist fights throughout the film. Lara is mugged and chased by her muggers after she gets her bag back then threatened with a knife. There are other chases as well. There are a couple of scenes where characters are affected by a disease that appears to cause them great pain. Foul language is scattered and mild.
“Tomb Raider” will remind gamers of the 2013 game of the same name. It too finds a nascent Lara Croft on a journey to an island with a bunch of bad guys she has to defeat and an ancient evil that must be stopped. While the movie and the game share characters with the same names the story is vastly different. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been. While the game takes a more fantastical angle borrowing some of those elements might have made the movie more entertaining. As it is, its fine but it could have been more.
“Tomb Raider” gets three stars out of five.
This week sees five new films heading to your local multiplex. I’ll see at least one of the following:
Pacific Rim: Uprising—
Paul, Apostle of Christ—
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