Tomb Raider wants to be Indiana Jones but ends up more The Mummy (the good Rachel Weisz one, not the dumb Tom Cruise one). That’s not an insult—The Mummy is a good f*cking adventure movie. But The Mummy also doesn’t take itself seriously, and you can tell Tomb Raider has some Aspirations, because it’s a little too serious in tone for a movie about a girl who is really good at jumping and solving rock puzzles on a magic island. There are moments when you wish Tomb Raider was having a little bit more fun, and other moments when it is nailing the right amount of fun to be having.
In this iteration, Lara Croft is a bike courier in London who refuses to claim her inheritance because then it means her dad, Richard Croft (Dominic West), who has been missing for seven years, is really gone. This is the best part of the movie. As Lara, Vikander is chippy and scrappy without seeming like a complete cartoon character. She’s essentially a trust fund baby slumming it, but Vikander is so likeable you don’t hate Lara for it. And Lara’s action bona fides are established in this section, as we see her sparring in an MMA gym (she loses) and participating in a “fox hunt” in which dozens of cyclists chase her through the streets of London (she loses again). It’s a nice touch to draw the line between “indefatigable” and “undefeatable”.
Soon enough Lara stumbles onto her father’s secret life as an adventurer and sets out to find him at his last known location. She hooks up with Lu Ren (Daniel Wu, Into the Badlands), the son of a fisherman who went off with Richard and never came back. Their meeting has shades of Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood—which is a STEEP comparison to invite—but Vikander and Wu have an instant, believable chemistry. (Their relationship is not romantic, but you kinda can’t help but root for them.) And then Lara and Lu Ren set off for the magic island where Richard Croft vanished, and Tomb Raider takes a turn for the generically silly video game movie.
The sillier Tomb Raider gets, the more Vikander grounds it, and she never strains to do it. She brings a lot of humanity to Lara, who could easily be an invincible badass, but with Vikander’s visceral performance Lara’s pain is tangible. She still does a lot of invincible badass things because this is an action movie, the natural milieu of invincible badasses, but there is a weight to Lara’s injuries you don’t usually see granted in (dumb) action movies. She’s also believable as an abandoned child searching for answers, and despite extremely silly circumstances, her reunion with Richard is, along with the opening scenes, one of the best parts of the movie.
But it often seems like Vikander is working off pages of the script no one else has, because no other character comes close to the almost-three-whole-dimensions of Lara. Walton Goggins is especially wasted as Generic Villain, who, with just a little tweak, could have been a great anti-hero. But Goggins is given little to do, and as a consequence, his hair never frizzes and Tomb Raider misses a chance to actually do something clever with its villain.
The script, from Geneva Robertson-Dworet—who also wrote Captain Marvel—and Alastair Siddons (of the Michael Fassbender movie Trespass Against Us), has some decent ideas but in the end, sticks too much to video game convention. And the direction, courtesy Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug (The Wave), is merely acceptable. The action scenes feel like game play you can’t actually play and there is a lot of voice-over that is exactly like someone reading screen directions from an RPG. This is the kind of stuff that appeals to no one and keeps tanking video game movies, and the stuff that feels like it hamstrings filmmakers from really innovating and doing something fresh and interesting.
Has Tomb Raider finally broken the video game curse? No. Tomb Raider doesn’t suck, but it isn’t a genuinely good movie, either. It’s passable. Tomb Raider is a passable movie. It’s just that after the likes of Assassin’s Creed, “passable” feels like a monumental achievement. Tomb Raider works more than it doesn’t, has a couple really good elements, and some dumb video game sh*t it would be better off without. But it is watchable, even, at points, enjoyable, and that is entirely down to Alicia Vikander, who single-handedly justifies rebooting Tomb Raider. If we can just jettison the dumb video game sh*t, we might actually get a good movie franchise out of this.
Attached - Alicia at AOL Build and on The Tonight Show last night.