Review: ‘Tomb Raider’ 2018 (Lara Croft Begins)

A good start hamstrung by a boring bad guy.

Lara (Alicia Vikander) works as a bike messenger hustling in and around London, but she’s also heir to the fortune left behind be her missing father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West). As the window draws to a close to accept her inheritance by declaring her father dead, she receives a clue pointing her to her father’s secret career: relic hunting. Armed with knowledge and her own determination, Lara traces her father’s footsteps back to a legendary cursed island said to the prison of a goddess of death. Unfortunately, the island is already occupied by a man (Walton Goggins) tasked to unearth the tomb, and Lara’s arrival may be the key to finally completing his mission.

While everyone was excited for video game heiress Lara Croft back when Angelina Jolie made a couple of Tomb Raider movies, there was a lot left to be desired, and even with the relative success of lady action stars finally getting their due, Alicia Vikander seemed like a long shot. After a trailer or two, she certainly looks capable, but there hasn’t seemed like much going on in the trailers other than a few completed action sequences. The film is finally out in theaters, but is the final cut fully realized or merely the best they could do with what they had?

Heroes need villains. While the Tomb Raider franchise of video games features puzzles as well as action sequences, the first-person POV is generally Lara doing her thing all by her lonesome and taking as much time as necessary. Unfortunately for this screenplay, mandatory bad guy Mathias comes off as more of a bored henchman unworthy of any actual attention; is it fair to blame actor Walton Goggins for being given too little to work with? An interesting back story here with a clever resolution worthy of a Lara Croft adventure exists, but the lack of a decent adversary undermines everything that happens. Even though we don’t actually get to the this not-so big bad until the middle of the second act, the letdown never lets up.

Vikander’s Lara is capable but slight, smart enough to pick the battles she can win — exactly like the games — and no one expects Croft to knock down guys four times her size when she can better outwit them. The plot seems intent upon creating an obvious shadowy organization as a seed for future franchise installments, but the execution falls flat since it’s a non-mystery from the start. From traps to threats, this Tomb Raider makes far more real-world sense than either of Jolie’s outings, but it fails the urgency test when it comes to caring about the so-called imminent danger. The entire film could have actually benefitted from a large countdown timer in the corner attached to a bomb; that’s how much you can feel the drag between scenes.

If the film does well enough (fingers crossed) it’d be nice to see Vikander’s Lara coming along now that’s she chosen to be the adventurer we know she’ll become, but that will depend on how many viewers can get past this finished cut. As it is, a beginning may be the only thing this incarnation of Ms. Croft will enjoy.

Two skull recommendation out of four

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