Director Roar Uthaug (The Wave) acknowledges Tomb Raider’s place in the action-archaeologist sub-genre by placing the opening exposition-spouting voiceover over some cheesy crossfading of maps and scrolls. He then smash-cuts to our protagonist being punched in the face during a kickboxing match to tell us this is something new. Tomb Raider is joyously earnest about its ridiculousness. Even with a few comical nods towards its video game beginnings and action-adventure credentials, this is a sincerely serious film about Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander).
There is a concentrated effort to give this Lara a psychological explanation for why she raids tombs, and Vikander rises to the challenge, providing one of the best recent blockbuster performances. She is by far the best thing about the film, differentiating her Lara from Angelina Jolie’s cool-as-ice interpretation by making her empathetic, desperate and vulnerable. This Lara bleeds. If Jolie is Pierce Brosnan’s Bond, Vikander is Daniel Craig’s.
Early scenes in London establish Lara as a lost cause; afraid of her inheritance because it means accepting the death of Richard (Dominic West), her father. She lives like a proper millennial in London, poor and making the most of the gig economy by working as a takeaway courier. These scenes are refreshingly colloquial with characters dropping lines including “whopped” and “quid”, and some British legends including Kristen Scott-Thomas, Derek Jacobi and Nick Frost fill out the supporting cast in thankless roles.
This all adds new shades to this icon, giving her a personality to root for once she’s on the island with Lu Ren (Daniel Wu, unfortunately sidelined) looking for the tomb of Himiko, a queen buried alive because her mere touch brings death and destruction. Racing her to the tomb is Mathias Vogel (a suitably evil Walton Goggins) who works for The Order of Trinity, a secret organisation that specialises in weaponising supernatural forces for nefarious purposes.No one doubts Lara will survive Tomb Raider, and the tension is instead derived from how far the filmmakers are going to punish her. The action sequences cannot be described as spectacular, but they are unpretentious and tangible. They get the job done and Vikander, embracing the physicality, makes you wince as she pulls a splinter from Lara’s stomach or mends her wounds.
Unfortunately, the beginning of the third act feels false with the various subplots clumsily crashing together. Vogel’s previous connection with Lara’s father isn’t developed, and the film’s narrative is simple and simplistic. It’s good versus evil without any extra meaning, dramatic tension or intellectual stimulation. The tiny attempt to create some introspection about myth versus reality, another hallmark of the genre, isn’t embedded into the narrative, and most of the emotional pathos comes from Lara’s grief and her relationship with Richard.
In their few scenes together, Vikander and West are effective, helping Utaug find a pulse. Lara spends the film looking to find herself, and finding herself means becoming the dual-pistol backflipping badass everyone fell for 20 years ago. Here’s hoping she, and Vikander, get more adventures in the future.
Tomb Raider arrives on 4K Ultra HD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD from 16 July 2018