Without ever really meaning it to, the Tomb Raider franchise in all of its various forms became a big part of my childhood and growing up. From memories of playing the original Playstation games with friends (mostly screaming at the terrifying wolves and never actually starting the game because training in the mansion was more fun), to memories of the middling but nevertheless iconic Angelina Jolie incarnation of the character, Lara Croft and her adventures took up a significant portion of my formative years. Cut to 2018 and here I am again, ready to give some more of my time to Tomb Raider in the form of a reboot.
Taking inspiration from 2013 edition of the video game franchise, the film tells an origin style story of Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), then a young, financially struggling bike courier living in London. Reluctant to legally accept the assumed death of her father (Dominic West) who went missing on a mysterious mission years previously, and therefore unable to unlock her gargantuan inheritance, Lara discovers a trove of clues that set her on an adventure to both discover the truth about her father, and you know, kind of save the entire world in the process.
Looking back, Tomb Raider does some things well and some things not so well. Any fan of the modern series of video games will instantly recognise and appreciate the tone and atmosphere that the film possesses, it recreates the feel of the game play incredibly well, with some action sequences taken almost directly. For someone who plays and enjoys these games, it is fun to watch scenes that I labour over, losing life after life, being brought to life in a large scale cinematic sense. Another faithful element of the game to big screen conversion is the fact that a genuine level of scariness still remains. Sure, it’s only PG-13 type scariness, but the film included enough effective jump scares to evoke memories of the way I used to play Tomb Raider from the protection and safety of my duvet, head covered and all.
In a slightly contradictory manner, it might be fair to say that some of the film’s strongest points also turn out to some of its key detriments. In evoking such an authentic version of the way the games are played, one can’t help but find themselves wishing they were doing that instead. The over the top jumps, the elegant slides, the effortless pointing and shooting, there comes a point about half way through the narrative that you start wanting to take control of the action rather than watch Alicia Vikander pressing her own X button (pun intended). Something that exciting game play can also override in the gaming world is poor or middling plot, and the film is certainly guilty of presenting a main antagonist in particular that feels woefully underdeveloped. There are also a lot of scenes specifically designed for 3D, which as a dedicated 2D enthusiast, I always find annoying.
Ultimately, bringing the character of Lara Croft back to a new generation of young girls isn’t a bad thing at all, and most of the action within the adventure filled narrative is perfectly fine, but it has to be said that there is nothing about this new version of Tomb Raider that screams home run.
It would be fair to say that Alicia Vikander presents a more human, relatable version of Lara Croft than Angelina Jolie gave us in the early 2000s. She isn’t as polished, as vampish, or as stoic, and in the context of this origin style story, it definitely works. There is a much more distinct tomboy edge to the character which is fun to see, and whilst Vikander’s Croft might not be as aesthetically memorable or become as iconic in wider pop culture, she is certainly charismatic enough to lead the film and remain the focal force as the action ramps up.
There is a solid if not brilliant supporting cast around her, most prominently Dominic West as her father Lord Richard Croft and Daniel Wu as her part time sidekick Lu Ren. West does good job with the somewhat flat material that his character has to work with, and extra points to Daniel Wu for playing a fun, abrasive but loyal character who isn’t required to engage with Vikander in a romantic way. Extra points to the film in general for not wedging in any kind of love interest angle, because quite frankly, when you’re as busy as Lara Croft is and trying to save the world, it is rightly the last thing on your mind!
Kristin Scott Thomas brings a touch of star quality to proceedings as Ana Miller, an associate of the Croft family company and estate, and without too much spoiler chat, it’s clear that any future sequels in this reboot franchise will feature her in a more prominent role.
Overall, Tomb Raider is a fairly capable action adventure that, whilst not destined to be on anyones list of favourites for the year (or even the month), it a perfectly acceptable way to spend two hours. The action is fun and the central performance is a good one, but ultimately the whole thing isn’t strong enough to warrant a rewatch or much thought after the fact at all. If I was still the eleven year old tomboy that I was when Lara Croft: Tomb Raider came out in 2001, then this might have been my favourite film for a little while. But at 28, and with a more refined palette and understanding, I’m predicting that I will have forgotten Tomb Raider entirely by June.