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 Gets Buried Too Easily 

Alicia Vikander
Alicia Vikander
Warner Brothers
 118 Minutes
Directed byRoar Uthaug
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West 
Tomb Raider

Considering that not one, but two movies early this century detailing the exploits of video game heroine Lara Croft (as played by Angelina Jolie) were somewhat tepidly received both critically and at the box office, one wonders why the powers that be at MGM and Warner Brothers decided to sink close to $100 million into the aptly named Tomb Raider, a revival of the franchise. Further, they handed the Croft role to Alicia Vikander, an actress not noted for her physicality. The good news is that Vikander acquits herself well in the action sequences (she bulked up and had martial arts training as well) and is by far the best thing about Tomb Raider. The bad news is that, in spite of Vikander’s best efforts, this is yet another action franchise that should have remained buried.


The new version of Tomb Raider takes place in the present day, and the plot is not based on Jolie’s version of the character, but, rather, a reboot of the video game that occurred in 2013. The difference is immediately apparent in the appearance of the main character. Jolie’s Lara Croft dressed in ultra-short shorts and a quite skimpy tee shirt, with her trademark pistols strapped to her waist. Vikander, on the other hand, dresses practically for an outing in the jungle, looking like a woman on her way to a workout at the gym.


And, indeed, Lara Croft has to stay in shape, since she scrapes by on the money she earns as a London bicycle courier. But she’s no ordinary courier; her father is zillionaire industrialist Richard Croft (Dominic West), whose love for archaeological treasure led him to ditch his business and go off on a mysterious expedition somewhere in the Pacific, never to be seen again. Lara refuses to admit he’s dead or touch any of the family fortune. However, she does finally accept one part of her inheritance, a puzzle box, which requires rotating the various parts around until it opens revealing another cryptic clue.


Lara follows these various clues until she discovers her father’s final destination, an island somewhere off Japan (looking surprisingly like Skull Island of King Kong fame minus the skull), which is supposedly the cursed tomb of an ancient warrior queen of Japan. Still refusing to accept the family fortune, Lara does scrape enough money together to go to Hong Kong, where she recruits Lu Ren, the son of the captain who took Richard on his final journey and disappeared with him as well. Lu agrees to take Lara to the island, but their ship is destroyed in a storm and, when they manage to swim ashore, they are taken captive by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), an archaeologist with a team of mercenaries who is intent on finding the tomb first and making off with its secrets.


It’s not a big spoiler (especially since Dominic West is second billed in the movie) to reveal that he is not actually dead but has been trapped on the island for years, and it’s probably no spoiler at all to reveal that the tomb itself is guarded by an assortment of infernal booby traps straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. It’s probably even less of a spoiler to reveal that what is actually in the tomb is something that would be very very bad if it fell into the wrong hands, such as those of the secret international criminal conspiracy that is funding Vogel’s expedition.


In reviewing Tomb Raider, we begin with an observation. It’s impossible to take a movie that plays like a cross between Raiders of the Lost Ark and National Treasure seriously. Although Tomb Raider lacks the supernatural elements that some of these other films have, the overly complex puzzles (the solutions to which are never fully explained to the audience), massive booby traps, and literal cliffhangers (Lara is left hanging several times, as in the clip below) defy belief. But director Roar Uthaug wants the audience to believe in the stunts portrayed on the screen, even though what Lara does in terms of leaping vast distances in a single bound would make Wonder Woman jealous. The result is a movie in which a game Alicia Vikander faces one peril after another with a grim face while, at the same time, relying on superhuman CGI abilities to get through them.


The waterfall sequence shown in the clip below is just one of many perils Lara faces during Tomb Raider, including a surprisingly intense scene in which she drowns a man in a small puddle of water. Many of them are spectacular when looked at objectively but fail to make that much of an impression on most members of the audience who are used to exploits like this. What the movie needs is a good dose of humor, but it is saddled with a screenplay that’s mostly lacking it and a relatively inexperienced director who, unlike Steven Spielberg in the Indiana Jones movies, doesn’t know how to inject humor without making the film a total joke.


Tomb Raider is not a joke of Mummy-like proportions (that is, last summer’s Tom Cruise version of The Mummy) and that is due primarily to Alicia Vikander. She takes the role quite seriously, so that the early sequences, in which she is trying to hold her own as a female in a very male-oriented street culture, are often good. The best sheer action scene in the film is a bicycle chase through downtown London pitting her against the male couriers to win a bet. None of the far more extravagant set pieces later in the film compare to that one in terms of actual suspense and excitement.


Also, after the lengthy dry spell that follows that bike chase, Lara actually enters the tomb some 90 minutes into the Tomb Raider, and, almost despite itself, the film becomes much more fun to watch. It is helped along considerably by having Walton Goggins as a villain, who manages to dial up the intensity considerably once he gets close to what the secret at the center of the tomb. Goggins is handicapped by not speaking in his usual Southern drawl (a Southern accent should be mandatory in all his films), but he soon takes his performance to just over the edge of credibility, enough to make him really nasty without turning his character into a joke.


Tomb Raider struggles for two hours without ever finding a consistent tone or level of credibility. At its best, in the freewheeling bike chase and, later, the rather enjoyable goings on in the tomb, the film approaches the levels of those Saturday afternoon serials that inspired Spielberg in his Indiana Jones movies. But there are too few of those moments to fully recommend the movie. Tomb Raider is by no means a disaster that will attract the attention of Razzie voters at years end, but it’s hard to see this movie launching a new franchise. Tomb Raider is worthy of a dignified burial, but, in retrospect, it just wasn’t quite worth the effort to unearth it.

In this scene, Alicia Vikander faces another life-or-death situation.

Read other reviews of Tomb Raider: 

Tomb Raider (2018) on IMDb