Having been separated from her missing adventurer father since she was a teenager, English heiress Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) struggles to make her way in the world, unwilling to accept her inheritance or get involved in her family’s business and filling her time training her body to physical perfection, working as a courier and taking part in street races. But when she discovers that her father may in fact still be alive, she takes it upon herself to venture out to a place that he was investigating, in the hopes of finding him, but soon discovers that a shadowy organisation called Trinity is searching for the same thing her father was – an ancient Empress who, if unearthed, would be capable of apocalyptic levels of destruction.
Tomb Raider gets off to a poor start because the writing in the opening half is quite clunky, uncertain and laced with a few plot holes, also having a tendency to include some humour which falls flat and comes across as forced. The story is at its worst when dealing with Lara and her “daddy issues” because in those scenes, the story becomes quite tedious and eyeroll-incuding due to the writing which is far too cloying and saccharine; these moments recur at various points throughout the film and while it’s all intended to give Lara some backstory and emotional stakes, the father/daughter relationship thread comes across as cheesy and just a little annoying, with the repeated line “Daddy loves you” guaranteed to bring on some exasperated sighs.
So the film has a slow, awkward and unappealing start but things thankfully pick up in the second half when Tomb Raider actually starts Tomb Raiding and the kinetic action scenes, which lead to an final act set in the pivotal tomb, provide plenty of entertainment that continually holds our interest and it’s all shot and executed very well, backed up by an appropriately adrenaline fueled score. Style-wise, it’s all up to snuff as the film seems to pay tribute to its source material, given Lara’s character design and the final “arena” filled with traps, spikes and puzzles and the like, and the visual effects, cinematography and production design is right on the money, although there’s some choppy editing and some scenes are too dark.
Regarding the woman of the hour, Alicia Vikander is most impressive as the titular hero, a Lara Croft for the new generation. Most noticeably, Vikander’s physical commitment is undeniable and it’s clear that she put in a massive amount of training in preparation for the role and as such, she looks amazing showing off her impressively muscular arms, shoulders and abs while also fully throwing herself into the physicality of the role by performing many of her own stunts, engaging with the fight choreography with power and dedication while in other areas, she effectively shows Lara’s intelligence, fearlessness and determination as well as plenty of anguish, pain and uncertainty. Because the Lara of this story is noticeably fallable – she goes through both the physical and emotional ringers and often gets hurt, beat down, bruised and bloodied during her ordeal so it’s clear that she’s not superhuman (though she is in peak physical condition!) and her humanity goes some way in making her supportable. Vikander may be occasionally let down by the script, as well as occasionally letting her accent slip, but overall she’s a worthy choice for the role of our intrepid explorer and in any future films, she’s bound to further increase in confidence, becoming more like the dominating force of nature we all know she can be.
The rest of the cast is fine but most are overshadowed by Vikander; Dominic West does his very best as Lara’s father Richard but has to contend with the very worst parts of the script, Tarantino regular Walton Goggins is suitably mean as the film’s main villain, even though he’s ultimately a glorified henchman with very little personality, Daniel Wu is likeable and gets on well with Alicia Vikander as Lu Ren, even though he’s initially set up to be the cliched hard drinking, rough-around-the-edges gambler, and Kristen Scott Thomas has a relatively brief but effective role and could possibly reappear in future instalments.
Having unbelievably only seen one other videogame adaptation (Assassin’s Creed) so far, I can’t definitively say where this film stands in the dodgy “videogame to film” arena but Tomb Raider seems to be a very decent attempt and while the overall story is fairly standard, nothing extra special, it’s a solid enough endeavour thanks to its entertaining second half and committed central performance. The foundation has been laid for a potential franchise and while this film has some story issues, future films could prove promising.