Upon leaving the new Tomb Raider reboot I knew two things for certain. The first of which is that Oscar winner, Alicia Vikander, has well and truly earned the mantel of action star.
The second, and perhaps more surprising, is that director Roar Uthaug has created a film that is good enough to leave you contemplating something rare: the prospect of a video-game movie sequel you wouldn’t mind seeing.
While the films narrative is by no means original, with screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons (working from a story by Robertson-Dworet and Evan Daugherty) plundering the well-worn conventions of origin stories, it did serve to give Lara Croft a fighting chance through its decision to place a great deal of trust in Vikander who, up to now, had not shown a propensity for action chops. And does she ever deliver.
From the moment she shows up on screen, training in a boxing ring, it’s clear that this is a woman who can handle herself. However, unlike Jolie, there’s a refreshing degree of relatable humanity in Vikander. She makes us aware of the fact that this version of Lara Croft is not a superhero yet. She’s on the hero’s journey, but at this moment in time, she’s a small step away from being just one of us. No, she’s not invincible — later on in the film, she’s almost completely incapacitated by a piece of debris going through her stomach — this is a movie, not a game. It’s not like she can operate in film on hit points and extra lives.
This iteration of Lara Croft has also thankfully been updated for our current times. She’s leaner, meaner, and less cartoonish than Angelina Jolie’s 2001 take on the character, and hews closest to the most recent games. It’s refreshing to see a female character lead an action franchise in the first place, but doing so without overly sexualising her is a welcome addition. Vikander’s Croft feel lived-in, she has flaws and vulnerabilities, but is also tough and determined. She’s unsure of where she fits in the world, but isn’t helpless – she’s a real person.
Vikander also manages to hold the emotional center of the film quite nicely. She’s still from a wealthy family, though she’s refused to take her inheritance as an extension of refusing to believe that her father, who disappeared some time ago, is dead, instead working as a bike messenger in order to pay her way. Tomb raiding enters the picture when she discovers a puzzle that he left behind, and follows the clues to an island called Yamatai.
The rest of the cast is rounded out by Dominic West as Lara’s father; Walton Goggins as Mathias Vogel, the de facto villain; and Kristin Scott Thomas as Ana, partner at Croft Holdings and the closest thing Lara has to a guardian. Of the bunch, West fares the best, if only because he’s fully committed to being in an action movie that’s an adaptation of a video game, i.e. he’s hamming it up, and it’s a delight to watch. By contrast, Goggins’ performance feels strangely dialed down. It doesn’t help that his character’s motivations don’t really seem evil; he just wants to get off the island! If I’d been stranded on an island for almost a decade, I’d do anything to get off of it, too.
But for all its flaws, Tomb Raider is still a blockbuster with a young woman at its center, doing everything that’s usually left to male action heroes without once being leered at. It also absolutely delivers as both a reboot and a star vehicle for the latest action heroine, Alicia Vikander – I can’t wait for the next one!