Tomb Raider, a new shot at adapting the legendary series to film from director Roar Uthaug, starring Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft, has arrived. The story treatment came from Evan Daugherty and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, which was translated to screenplay by Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons. The new film is far removed from the first couple of attempts, and is more based on the 2013 reboot series from Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics, and a little bit of the sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, sprinkled on top. However, as one would expect, it isn’t just a straight adaptation of the games. Tomb Raider borrows mostly imagery from the games, while putting its own spin and ideas into the Lara croft myth. While the flick does suffer from its constraints, being a PG-13 studio flick with some color by numbers vibes to it, the moments it does get right are nailed, boosted in particular by Vikander’s dead-on take on modern Lara Croft.
The opening moments of Tomb Raider establish who this particular version of Lara Croft is. She’s neither the hardened treasure hunter of old or the starry-eyed academic of the reboot series. She’s somewhere in-between, with the natural talents we know the character for, but with a unique lack of direction. After her father disappeared during an excursion, Lara’s refusal to sign papers declaring him dead have blocked her off from the Croft fortune. With no resources or higher education, she scrapes by with a delivery job and takes MMA classes she can’t afford to, well, explain why she’s in such good shape.
After an unplanned meeting with her father’s second wife, Anna, Lara finally makes the decision to sign those papers, discovering in the process her dad’s big secret. He’s been researching the legendary Japanese queen Himiko, and of course the mythic island Yamatai and the intersection with the ominous Trinity organization. This is all info-dumped on the viewer about as gracefully as a tornado, but it isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things. These are expository details borrowed from the video games that give us the push we need to get to the real meat of Tomb Raider.
What follows next is essentially a story about Lara Croft finding her calling. This is done with a variety of big action scenes, some ripped directly from the 2013 video game and some, such as the key moment when Lara kills a person for the first time, delivered with much more human gravity than the sleazier game version. The more emotional moments are hokey, but still land thanks to Vikander’s devotion to the role. Dominic West as Lara’s father plays his even hokier role with a level of seriousness that the material doesn’t quite deserve, but aided in suspending my disbelief in the moment. Meanwhile, Walton Goggins’ Mathias is super camp, and Daniel Wu acts as a sort of proxy for the game’s whole Scooby Gang, although he mostly just putters around in the background. Charismatically so, but he’s ultimately there to smile and wink at Lara for the audience.
Going into Tomb Raider I wasn’t sure what to expect. The reboot games are great, but while I have a lot of respect for what they attempted in terms of storytelling, the bar is a lot higher in film. Perhaps better for it, the filmmakers opted to play more to the game’s action, recreating the awesome, Uncharted-like setpieces such as the rotting airplane and parachute sequences.
Mixed with a relatable new take on Lara Croft’s background, the strong performances and just enough Hollywood fluff as to not be offensive, I left the movie with a renewed interest in catching up on the franchise (I still need to finish Rise). With Shadow of the Tomb Raider coming up, this feels like a great time for the movie to squeeze in and get people to remember how cool the series can be.