“There’s a very big difference between myth and reality.”
The newly rebooted Tomb Raider seems comfortable being the kind of perfectly forgettable second feature on a hot Summer night’s drive-in theater excursion. It’s dopey enough to ween little kids off their sugar highs and into a slumber. Adventurous enough to gain the fleeting attention of teens. Just enjoyable enough to justify the price and the trek out for adults. Yet rather than raiding the riches of a specific tomb, the movie sifts through sand dunes in search of more pointless story. Tomb Raider doesn’t know how to brand or to sell itself, and although what’s here visually is quite appealing and often fun, it’s far less inspired than it’d like you to believe.
Although the film uses helicopters to great effect, it might as well exist in a Universe where the Wright Brothers never took flight. This eye-level iteration of Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) – whose greatly nuanced flair for dramatic acting mixes with an unsurprising aptitude for canned jokes and extreme physicality – is decidedly more grounded than before, boiling its fictitious Hunger Games style heroine in the same pot that softened a hardened Bruce Wayne a la Batman Begins some years prior. Lara’s saddled with Daddy issues, doesn’t acknowledge the massive inheritance that awaits her, and uses adrenaline like a drug to keep her head and heart moving. She is, like Christopher Nolan’s take on an emotionally distant Batman who’s competent in parkour, just as capable of handling herself as she is ready to act impulsively. Vikander’s version of Lara Croft is not an action figure or a beautified Barbie, nor the girl next door. She’s born out of realism.
By making Lara a low-life city dweller with a rich past, the adventure behind the story doesn’t really make much sense outside of her relentless pursuit to finish an unclosed chapter. The shtick works, but barely, and screen time better suited for developing personal tension becomes a spiritually lost vagrant. Her encounter with Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), a literal drunken sailor, arrives out of thin air. As does the island dwelling antagonist Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), a greedy man whose big character flaws are justified by his own imprisonment. Tomb Raider loses its edge and its cool in these forced dramatic parts, relaying exposition through clammy confrontation rather than applying them to the winning, well-executed set pieces. It’s fun to watch a generational talent and Academy Award winning actress execute a badass sprint up rock slides, yet if you’re going to hire someone of Vikander’s caliber, I have to believe that an emotional stone has been left unturned.
Somewhere in between the absurdity of National Treasure: Book of Secrets and the reckless imagination found in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the newest Tomb Raider avoids clichés without really dancing along the edge of the cliff, safely staying in its lane like a blind driver with a bad habit. We’re unswayed but nevertheless engaged. As far as video game adaptations go, where 2016’s gorgeous looking Assassin’s Creed miserably failed was its inability to fuse myth with reality, and Tomb Raider dodges this problem altogether by making this earthly depiction different from Angelina Jolie’s chic portrayal in the 2001 mishap. The story is less about her waist line, her bust size, the poutiness of her lips, and doesn’t look through a happy male gaze. Vikander’s Croft is strong and vulnerable, rash and resourceful, and dressed like a rugged Urban Outfitters mall model, and if they push forward with new chapters in this series, I seriously hope they set aside as much time to refine character elements as they spend on staging spectacle.
“It’ll be an adventure.”
Rating: 3 out of 5