It’s been nearly forty years since Indiana Jones originally crossed our screens (himself an Allan Quatermain update), and more than twenty since Lara Croft’s first video game appearance; in the meantime we’ve had a fairly crowded market of imitators, and a big legacy for our new Lara to live up to. How does she fare?
Worldwide box office of nearly $275m suggests rather well, although in truth the film is a bit of a mixed bag. The plot is, bar for a couple of neat twists in the latter stages, somewhat pedestrian, the supporting cast made up of high impact day-players – with most of the larger roles given over to less effective Richard Chamberlain lookalikes. The success of Tomb Raider (2018), then, essentially rests on the performances of two people: Alicia Vikander as the series’ heroine, and Norwegian director Roar Uthaug’s handling of the all-important action sequences. Both of which prove to be good choices.
The plot is relatively simple, the decision to make this an origins story (reflecting the 2013 game reboot) turning out to be an inspired one. Twenty-something Lara’s father has disappeared, and she refuses to take up her inheritance as she considers that a confirmation that his seven-year absence marks his death; instead she works as a bicycle courier and kickboxes (only moderately successfully) in her downtime. However, a conversation with her father’s chief associate sets Lara on a path to discovering his whereabouts, at the end of which she will find a conspiracy, a secret, and a tomb.
Vikander is terrific. The kickboxing and biking allow her just enough toughness to be convincing when called upon, but the lack of field experience lets Vikander imbue this latest Lara with a vulnerability and humanity that previous iterations have lacked. The film itself is perhaps a touch short on levity, but what humour there is generally comes from Lara and her interactions with those around her, and Vikander brings considerably more charm and personality to the part than her predecessor, Angelina Jolie. Comparisons are inevitable, of course, but the 2018 character and icon is considerably more down-to-earth and thus far easier to identify and empathise with. Daniel Wu, as her accomplice, is also terrifically charming if underused, and were there to be sequels he’d be a welcome regular.
Director Uthaug keeps the frequent action sequences relatively brief, which might sound an error given the franchise, but actually works much to its benefit. Rather than relentlessly emulating the playing experience aspect, instead Lara is given the opportunity to charm the audience as she gradually transforms into the character we know and expect – and her challenges become more testing and substantial as she becomes more tenacious and able to cope.
There’s nothing in the story that seasoned audiences won’t have seen many times before, though, and its predictability is the film’s only real downside. So unfortunately, Tomb Raider (2018) is very much not the ideal story from which to re-start the film series – but the execution of it is successful enough to just about paper over its shortcomings.
REVIEW: TOMB RAIDER / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: ROAR UTHAUG / SCREENPLAY: GENEVA ROBERTSON-DWORET, ALASTAIR SIDDONS / STARRING: ALICIA VIKANDER, DANIEL WU, DOMINIC WEST, WALTON GOGGINS, KRISTIN SCOTT THOMAS, DEREK JACOBI, NICK FROST / RELEASE DATE: 16TH JULY
Extras: four featurettes, including Evolution of an Icon