Positioned as a prequel to the films from the early 2000s, and similarly based on the hugely popular video game, Roar Uthaug’s Tomb Raider is an attempt to explain the origins of Lara Croft. Overall, it’s an enjoyable watch, but the weak script inevitably lets it down, and what could have been high-camp fun instead results in a mediocre action film with underdeveloped characters.
We first encounter Lara (Alicia Vikander) working as a cycle courier, some years after the disappearance of her aristocrat father (Dominic West). She doesn’t really need the money from her badly paid job because she has a huge inheritance, but instead of using her family wealth, she enters into a cycling contest to win some quick cash. It’s a bit incongruent, but this awkward plot point is to signal that she’s too proud to sign the documents which would provide her with instant riches, because doing so would mean she’s accepted the death of her father; and this Lara has daddy issues.
The relationship between Lara and her father is seen through flashback and doesn’t come across very sympathetically. Daddy Croft seems to be more interested in going on global adventures than he is in raising his then-teenage daughter, and with no mention of a mother around, Lara apparently gets dumped with a nanny. But clearly he does love Lara, because he affectionately refers to her as “Sprout” and kisses his fingers which he presses against her forehead as he makes his swift departure. This is only worth a mention because both are used throughout the film as a callback, and not only do they not work in a tongue-in-cheek way, they also come across as irritating and cheesy. There is little familial chemistry between them and it’s hard to believe their relationship has any real affection.
At the office of the Croft’s family lawyers (Derek Jacobi and Kristin Scott Thomas being as enigmatic as they can, with weak material to work with), Lara declines to sign for her inheritance and learns her father left her a puzzle. She soon solves it, and discovers his secrets hidden beneath the crypt at their stately home: he’s an explorer and has found a tomb which apparently harbours an evil spirit. Conveniently, he left Lara a message on video, and insists she burn all the documents related to his last discovery. Of course she doesn’t, and instead goes on her own adventure, following in his footsteps, and hoping to find him along the way.
This first third of the film is quite slow, but the rest picks up the pace, and once the dull family flashbacks are left behind, it turns into a fun, but silly, adventure, with Lara trying to find out what happened to her father and becoming an action hero in the process. Daniel Wu, the captain of the boat Lara hires to take her to the island where the tomb is hidden, provides a competent sidekick, but like Lara and her father is an underwritten and underdeveloped character, and Wu is woefully underused. Walton Goggins’ island baddie, Vogel, is as corrupt as he is ruthless, kills with no hesitation, and is an obstacle to Lara’s hopes of finding her father. Along the way, there are booby-traps, caves, baddies with guns, precarious bridges, waterfalls, big leaps and jumps, and Vikander proves herself worthy of the action genre, with an effortless performance.
But both Crofts, as well as the supporting characters, are afforded weak dialogue and it’s impossible to care about any of them. With no real character development, and lacking the camp silliness of Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider outings, this feels a lost opportunity for a decent reboot. However, it’s mindlessly entertaining, worth seeing on a big screen like IMAX, and offers lots of cliffhanger excitement due to the outrageous action sequences, with more than a nod to Indiana Jones. Vikander is a good arse-kicking Croft, but with this Lara still seeking daddy’s approval, her heroism is undermined, and ultimately the film is weaker for it.
Tomb Raider is on general release in IMAX and other cinemas now.
Zoe Margolis | @girlonetrack