Review: Rebooted ‘Tomb Raider’ should stay buried
Some tombs are best left unraided.
Not that the original “Tomb Raider” series represents some sort of hallowed cinematic ground. Far from it. But the rebooted “Tomb Raider” — starring Oscar winner Alicia Vikander as jungle-dwelling, butt-kicker Lara Croft — doesn’t add enough value to the property to justify its existence, Vikander’s presence, or your time. You’re best to leave it buried.
“Tomb Raider” is based on the popular video game series that debuted in 1996 and has spawned more than a dozen titles. Its star, Lara Croft, was as well known for her buxom digital proportions as for any of her in-game exploits, and she became either a sex symbol or a symbol for sexism within the video game industry, depending on who’s doing the talking.
A movie series was inevitable, and a post-Oscar Angelina Jolie (following up her 1999 win for “Girl, Interrupted”) brought the character to life in two forgettable films, 2001’s Simon West-directed “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” and its 2003 sequel, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider —The Cradle of Life.” Both are better known for their poster controversies and arguments over Jolie’s clingy costumes than their actual, by-the-numbers plot mechanics.
Now comes the new version, with the same amount of time elapsed between Best Supporting Actress win (Swedish-born Vikander won for 2015’s “The Danish Girl”) and Lara Croft debut. (Oscar-winning actresses have a history of diving into action franchises; Brie Larson took a similar post-Oscar path, following up her “Room” win with a role in “Kong: Skull Island.”)
Vikander has a believable toughness in the role, but the filmmakers don’t make her an infallible superhero. When the film opens, Croft is sparring with a partner in a mixed martial arts ring, but rather than scoring a victory, she taps out when she falls victim to her opponent’s submission hold.
Croft is a financially strapped bike courier struggling to make ends meet, and she participates in hastily assembled urban bicycle chases for extra cash (an early bike race through East London is the movie’s most thrilling sequence). She’s haunted by the disappearance of her wealthy adventurer father (Dominic West) years earlier and refuses to accept his death. Through a meeting with her father’s business partner (Kristen Scott Thomas), Croft begins to unravel the mystery of her dad’s whereabouts. Her curiosity leads her to Hong Kong, where she meets up with Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), who helps her navigate to a remote island in the middle of the Pacific.
Once on the island, Croft and Ren are captured by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins, crazy-eyed as usual), who is leading an expedition to unlock the island’s hidden mysteries. Croft is able to escape — a set piece involving a waterfall and the carcass of an airplane is another winner — and when she washes up on a beach, she learns she was right to believe her father was still alive and kicking.
It’s not that “Tomb Raider” is a bust, but there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before. A little “Indiana Jones,” a little “National Treasure,” a little “Bourne Identity” — not to mention its similarities to those two previous “Tomb Raider” films — its script feels like the same sort of ancient relic those on the island are trying to excavate. The story revolves around an ancient curse threatening to be unleashed on the world, a plot device that wasn’t any less silly the previous 5,500 times it was used.
Vikander is capable and determined and Norwegian director Roar Uthaug (“The Wave”) stages some decent sequences, but “Tomb Raider” runs out of energy midway. Hollywood seems determined to make Lara Croft work, but perhaps she’s best left in video game form. Like your copy of the original Playstation game, this “Tomb Raider” already feels like it’s covered in dust.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some language
Running time: 118 minutes