3 out of 5 stars

The reboot has yet to be made that won’t be judged against the original, so inevitably Roar Uthaug’s Tomb Raider will be compared to both the popular Tomb Raider video games and Simon West’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), starring Angelina Jolie and her father, Jon Voight.

Too bad, because gaming and film-watching have different goals; the first to anticipate and gain expertise through repetition, the second to be surprised at the first viewing. Too bad again, because Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) and Dominic West (The Wire) lack Jolie’s and Voight’s screen presences, and the new Tomb Raider is an origin story—meaning it’s burdened with groundwork the 2001 movie avoided. Origins make for a slower start, so Vikander and West, separately or together, must work harder to thrill us.

Nobody can say Alicia Vikander didn’t work hard to thrill us playing digital heroine Lara Croft. From the hours she spent in the gym, to the constant physical workouts in almost all of her scenes, her commitment to the role is obvious—Vikander’s gone all in for this.

Our new Lara Croft is in her early-twenties and has yet to make much of herself. She loses mixed martial arts matches, struggles to make a living as a bicycle courier, and seems generally directionless and unwilling to let go of her father’s memory — though he’s been missing for seven years.

The world, and particularly her sometimes guardian, Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), assume Lord Richard Croft is dead, but Lara won’t have it. She pointedly refuses to sign the necessary documents required to gain her vast inheritance, including those Ana Miller needs to run the Croft business empire—until finally, her luck and finances run out. However, just as Lara’s about to sign the papers, she receives a puzzle bequeathed to her by her father, which sets her off on her first globe-trotting adventure.

Lara can’t get anywhere without money and transport, so enter Max (Nick Frost—someone I never tire of), stealing scenes as a friendly neighbourhood pawn broker/illegal weapons dealer; and Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), an alcoholic captain with tenuous ties to her missing father, whom Lara needs to get her into and out of a sea of troubles.

That’s what Lara Croft has always been about, getting into and (hopefully) out of endless trouble, and the latest Lara Croft movie doesn’t disappoint. From wrestling matches, knife fights, to shipwrecks, to high dives, to impromptu parachute jumps, to bows and arrows and gun battles, Vikander does it all.

In fact, the Swedish actress spends more time dangling precariously over heights than reciting lines. And that’s a good thing because, where Jolie’s posh Croft was a wry master of everything (riding, archery, one-liners), Vikander’s more earnest Croft is fearful during her escapades and yet frightfully determined to accomplish her goals.

I’ve yet to see Vikander do comedy. Not everyone can be funny onscreen, but writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons ought to take a few lessons from Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford; the occasional sarcastic line works to relieve any tension we feel while watching our heroes being pummelled, shot at, or plummeting to near-certain death for 118-minutes.

This is what sidekicks are for; providing comic relief when the dramatic tension becomes uncomfortable. Indiana Jones had the occasional female partner, or street urchin, or monkey, or alternatively he served as his own comic sidekick (“it had to be snakes…”). Our new Lara Croft, thus far, doesn’t have a sidekick, which is fine for a video-game, but not so great for a movie.

tomb raider

With some good writing to shift her tone, Lara could become a bit more Indiana Jones—less dry and might acquire her own version of Sancho Panza. Wu doesn’t quite cut it, but others might, and I’m betting she gets one for the next installment, or else this will be another two-film franchise.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider cost almost as much to produce as this reboot (a rumoured $94–106 million); a sum Warner Bros. will almost certainly make back in the first 10 days of international release. So, Vikander will no doubt find herself tossed into another dangerous tomb somewhere, from which she’ll decipher clues, punch, jump, duck, and swing her way to freedom—again.

In fact, I’m betting Vikander, Scott Thomas, and Nick Frost already have Tomb Raider 2 circled on their calendars. Let’s hope next time they’re more relaxed, and give us a few laughs to go along with the thrills.

Cast & Crew

director: Roar Uthaug.
writers: Geneva Robertson-Dworet & Alastair Siddons.
starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Nick Frost & Jaime Winstone.