Alicia Vikander gets down and dirty in this modern re-telling of Lara Croft’s classic hero’s journey.
There’s a moment early in Roar Uthaug’s Tomb Raider reboot — a film that places Alicia Vikander in the role of a younger Lara Croft — in which our heroine plays a game called ‘Rabbit.’ At this point, we’ve seen her working as a bike messenger struggling to make ends meet, mostly because she refuses to accept her inheritance because it means admitting that her father (the seven years-missing Richard Croft, played by Dominic West) is dead. The game of ‘Rabbit’ involves one person placed a paint can on their bike and stabbing a hole in it. They then lead a gaggle of cyclists on a chase through town. If the Rabbit is caught before all the paint runs out, they lose. If they escape, they win a reasonably nice amount of money.
The sequence, which if we’re being honest is thrilling, is a good metaphor for the first two-thirds of Tomb Raider. It’s a movie with incredible momentum, the kind of film that feels like someone edited it like the end of the reel was on fire and if they didn’t get to the big action set pieces quick enough, the whole thing would burn away forever. This momentum is both a blessing and a curse for the audience. On one hand, if it’s going to do anything wrong, moving too quickly through its 118-minute runtime is the least obnoxious thing an action movie can do. On the other hand, the film blows right by a lot of character moments and caring about anyone beyond its poster girl is a real struggle.
The good news is that Alicia Vikander is a strong choice for this version of Lara Croft. This isn’t the same version of the character Angelina Jolie played back in 2001. That version existed in a world that was more pulpy and ostentatious. Jolie’s Croft was a slightly more mature Lara, further along on her path as a thrill-seeking explorer. This version is based aesthetically upon a newer game that features a more grounded version of Croft. But in the context of the film, she’s also far more rough around the edges. One might even call her frustratingly naive. It’s a story choice for the film that only occasionally yields positive results. She makes rash decisions, puts herself in unnecessary danger, and in the case of the game of Rabbit, ends up covered in green paint. Then again, if she wasn’t making bad decisions, we wouldn’t get to see her make the daring escapes. And that’s what sells tickets for the Tomb Raider franchise. At least that’s the idea.
When the film finally settles into its main conflict — between Lara and Mathias Vogel, an evil company man played by the always dynamic Walton Goggins — it becomes a fun hybrid of 1999’s The Mummy and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s less CGI-soupy than you’d expect and smarter in its third act than it is in its first two. Goggins and Vikander have strong adversarial chemistry as they move through the massive final set pieces. In its own way, Tomb Raider ’18 delivers a lot of wonderful action and mystery, doing so with a smart mix of practical and digital effects. And by the end, Lara Croft emerges as a far different character as the film sets up pieces for its inevitable sequels. And even though the sequel-baiting is there and the classic hero’s journey is fulfilled in familiar ways, Uthaug’s film is a lot of fun. Whether or not it’s too little, too late will be something every viewer will decide for themselves. The good news is that even when it doesn’t work, it works quickly.
Like it’s 2001 counterpart, Tomb Raider feels like a movie that’s of its time. Our big screen heroes look more like real people than caricatures. Their danger feels more grounded and messy. And when the dust settles, they exist in worlds that are fun, but more often than not forgettable. Such is likely the fate of this new Tomb Raider — it’s good in the moment, but there’s little about it that demands further exploration.