Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider (Photo: Warner Bros.)
**1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Roar Uthaug
STARS Alicia Vikander, Dominic West
Angelina Jolie proved to be a dynamic Lara Croft in her two cinematic at-bats, but 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and 2003’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider — The Cradle of Life were so daft and derivative that they did the actress no favors. Now comes the inevitable reboot, and while Tomb Raider might be every bit as derivative as its antecedents, it’s certainly not as daft. Yet, as before, its greatest strength rests with its leading lady.
Like Jolie, Alicia Vikander is also a Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner electing to exercise her physical side. But her Lara Croft is a far cry from Jolie’s more confident and muscular heroine. Vikander’s take on the role is less Wonder Woman and more Everywoman, and it’s an interesting reversal of expectations that provides the picture with additional resonance.
The plot finds Lara heading off to unknown territories to locate her father (Dominic West), who’s been MIA for seven years. She acquires a friend in a drunken sea captain (solid Daniel Wu), lands an enemy in a vicious slave driver (snoozy Walton Goggins), and becomes involved in the effort to open the final resting place of an ancient queen who had the power to destroy people simply by touching them. It’s all rather pedestrian, but director Roar Uthaug does manage to stage a couple of exciting action set-pieces that rise above the expected clutter (one involving a storm, the other a waterfall).
Still, it’s Vikander who’s primarily responsible for the picture’s limited success. She transforms Lara Croft into a person who becomes extraordinary despite her relative ordinariness. When Lara sustains an injury (and she collects contusions the way some people collect stamps), there’s no stiff upper lip at work here – she cries out in a manner that makes us wince. When she’s dangling over some precipice, there’s no instant flexing of the muscles that lifts her out of harm’s way – she has to draw strength from every millimeter of her body to hoist herself out of her precarious predicament. For a character who began life as a video game avatar, she’s quite human – and certainly more so than the protagonists in past video-game adaptations (including the hero played by Vikander’s real-life husband, Michael Fassbender, in the 2016 debacle Assassin’s Creed).
If a sequel to Tomb Raider gets greenlit, let’s hope the focus is on crafting a better storyline. Because Lara Croft herself needs no upgrade.