FILM REVIEW – TOMB RAIDER. With Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas. Written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet & Alastair Siddons. Directed by Roar Uthaug. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some language. 118 minutes.
Having no familiarity with the video game (other than knowing it exists), this reviewer will not attempt to guess how fans of the game will respond to this reboot of the Lara Croft movies, with Alicia Vikander replacing Angelina Jolie. That said, TOMB RAIDER was a thrilling and not entirely mindless action-adventure movie, and Vikander may find herself with a franchise.
Where it differs from the game (apparently being loosely based on the 2013 edition), is providing Lara with a good deal of backstory. Her father (Dominic West) has been missing for seven years and when we first meet Lara she’s getting beaten up in a boxing ring where we learn she’s behind on her gym fees. In fact, she’s an heiress, but in order for her to inherit she would have to sign papers declaring her father officially dead, and she’s reluctant to do so.
Through a series of clues, she learns that her father’s last journey was to a mysterious island off the coast of China, and she ends up hiring the son (Daniel Wu) of the man who took her father there, in order to go there herself. The second half of the film is said to be closer to the game with Lara and the bad guys (headed by Walton Goggins) solving a number of puzzles to get into the tomb of some ancient angel of death.
There’s more than a passing similarity to the “Indiana Jones” movies here, and Vikander is game, showing a good deal of physicality in the action scenes, but not afraid to show some emotion as she searches for her father. The latter gives her character some depth, but some viewers may decide it’s getting in the way of the special effects. Vikander, who was stunning in “Ex Machina” and won an Oscar for the arthouse film “The Danish Girl,” brings more than looks and athleticism to the role, making her Lara someone whose motivations we can understand.
“Tomb Raider” is clearly meant to launch a series, with Lara acquiring weapons at the film’s end that fans of the game may have been missing. The brief appearance of Kristin Scott Thomas as Ana Miller is also a setup for a future storyline, although cameos by Derek Jacobi and an uncredited Nick Frost may be just for fun.
With plenty of action set pieces, an engaging heroine, and taking itself just seriously enough not to veer into campiness, “Tomb Raider” is a film that you know is calculated to kick off future blockbusters in the series, and yet it works. Perhaps it’s because the filmmakers realized that the way you make people want to come back for more is to make sure you get it right the first time.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.