For better or worse, we got a reboot of the Tomb Raider movies after Angelina Jolie’s outings in 2001 and 2003. A reboot brings with it a new face for the franchise, and GK Films settled on Swedish actress Alicia Vikander who shot into stardom with her stint in Ex Machina.
Vikander’s Lara Croft is an heiress to a burgeoning family fortune, left to her when her beloved father Richard (Dominic West) disappears on one of his archeological expeditions while she’s an adolescent. As Lara grows up, she figures out that her father’s absence has more sinister undertones, fueled by an ancient Japanese tomb that could spell the end of humanity and a mysterious organization hell-bent on its seizure. With what little off-the-grid experience she has, Lara sets out into the unknown in the hopes of finding her father and untangling the web of mystery he’s in.
Tomb Raider is not a vital or necessary reboot in any way, nor does the film break ground in its adaptation of the original video game, or in acting as an homage to Jolie’s couple of movies. It’s a mild-mannered action-adventure film that does enough to warrant a viewing during a weekend at home. For two primary reasons, the 2018 Tomb Raider can be a likable viewing experience due to its central figure and plot structure.
The New Lara Croft
Since this movie is a reboot after Angelina Jolie’s outing, it has to differentiate itself in one or more ways. The best way in which the writers and director have done this is with the central protagonist herself, Lara Croft.
The reboot starts as an origin movie, focusing on Lara’s childhood and how her path toward locating lost artifacts is a direct consequence of her father’s passions and interests. She isn’t a complete badass like Jolie’s Croft, and that’s a benefit to Vikander’s take on the role. This Lara has some fight training, but she isn’t a maestro in the arena, evidenced by one of the opening scenes where she gets grappled into submission.
Even out in the wilderness as she battles men who tower over her, there’s a vulnerability that we can learn to appreciate. She struggles to get the job done and doesn’t have that same air of invincibility a video game character might wield. It’s a massive strength of the film as it gives Vikander time and space to grow into the role, a given with potential sequels hinted at with the final scenes.
Vikander’s Lara Croft has a different starting point to Jolie’s. She’s younger and still new to the “tomb raiding” game. Jolie starts her first film fighting a giant robot before disabling it. Vikander’s Lara starts out getting her ass kicked in the boxing ring. You care more for Vikander as a result because the sense of danger and shock is more authentic for her. “Oh my god! I hurt someone!” There’s a steeper learning curve for Vikander, and it’s a boon for audiences that want events to escalate, rather than start at a fever pitch.
Because the film’s origins are based on a video game, the cinematography and visual palette mimic that of the game structure in many instances. Lara’s involved in several chase scenes and action sequences, both on foot and one elaborate opening piece on a bicycle. While the camera doesn’t adopt a behind-her-back third-person perspective at all times, having that “race against time” mentality with the action does pay homage to the video games.
In other ways, the movie is centered on exploring unknown territories and solving puzzles and artifacts steeped in ancient history. There are stages to the mystery and problem-solving challenges, especially in the final act when Lara and co. are about to get into the tomb. Each level involves a challenge, and each level becomes incrementally more challenging than its predecessor. You keep moving forward until you get to the final hurdle, the “boss level” you might say.
If you’re a fan of the Tomb Raider video games or action-adventure games in general, the film will be entertaining. Audiences attuned to more traditional movie formats might find the structure uncomfortable, that’s if they notice it. Since the film doesn’t stick to a video game style with the same commitment as Hardcore Henry, the more free-range camera options will make Tomb Raider seem part of the usual Hollywood mix.
The driving force for the film at the end of the day isn’t the plot, the structure, or the action. It’s Alicia Vikander. This is a casting decision done right, especially since the reboot starts off as an origin movie. Vikander plays effectively with a vulnerability and naivete to ground us in her growth and maturity as an action hero. With her relatively small physical appearance bundled with furious intent and ambition, you care for her like you would for your friend or sister. So when she rises to the occasion to combat the increasingly tricky odds, you can’t help but root for her.