If the Tomb Raider movie wasn’t called “Tomb Raider,” it would be a better film. Because while it’s a perfectly enjoyable action flick, it’s not one that lives up to the franchise, the character, or its title.
Directed by Roar Uthaug (The Wave), Tomb Raider stars Oscar winner Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft, a young woman from a wealthy family whose father disappeared several years ago. Since then, Croft refuses to believe he’s dead and thus refuses to inherit his millions. Instead, she lives a fairly normal, albeit athletic life, working as a bike messenger in London and training in mixed martial arts. One day, she discovers a clue to her father’s disappearance that sends her off an adventure to a remote island in hopes of finding him. Overall, the story is predictable, but still, there’s a level of comfort and enjoyment in that, especially when centered around Vikander’s excellent performance.
As Croft, Vikander is constantly evolving. She’s reckless yet capable and with each situation she encounters, she becomes more and more like the Lara Croft we know and love. Similarly, the film also grows from its beginning, a straightforward story about a young woman in the big city, moving to a more propulsive, if familiar, jungle adventure movie. The set pieces along the way are almost universally exciting, and this is where Uthaug is most successful as director. He puts Croft on planes, in water, with bows and arrows, flying through the air, and, of course, in tombs, which is not only entertaining but also allows the audience to watch Lara on her path to becoming the Tomb Raider in real time.
But that’s the thing. She spends all her time on the path, but never quite arrives anywhere.
Most people know Tomb Raider as a series of video games about Lara Croft, a badass, gun-toting archaeologist/adventurer who gets into amazing action sequences, discovers a lot of lost cities that contain evil spirits, and often saves the world. However, in 2013, a new video game called Tomb Raider was released that made Croft more realistic and much more fully-realized as a character. It told the origin story of how the young Lara actually became this action hero and was both critically and commercially acclaimed—so much so that it helped spur interest in bringing the character back into theaters after Angelina Jolie last played her in 2003. In it, Lara also goes searching for her father, only to encounter a sinister cult and an ancient mystery, forcing her to basically become a badass to survive.
The game ends with Lara transformed by her experiences and having taken an important, major step toward becoming the Tomb Raider character most people think of, albeit one just embarking on her career. The film builds its Lara up similarly, but never quite finishes the job. This might be less frustrating if the film’s structure wasn’t so basic and familiar, but while it obviously contains the building blocks of Tomb Raider it ultimately lacks the spark or individuality to truly become its own, unique story. Instead, it feels like a better-than-average action movie slapped with a brand-name title.
Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, and Dominic West are the film’s main supporting characters and they do that job as well as possible, bolstering Croft’s story as its villain, confidante, and father characters, respectively. But really, it’s all about Vikander as Lara. There’s rarely a moment when we aren’t rooting for Croft because of Vikander’s natural, powerful performance. It just so happens that her performance, the action, the character development, and those supporting roles never amount to anything particularly special, unfortunately.
In the end, it’s an enjoyable, but forgettable, action movie that feels more like the training stage of one of the games rather than a complete experience.
Tomb Raider opens this Friday, March 16.