Synopsis: Lara Croft, the fiercely independent daughter of a missing adventurer, must push herself beyond her limits when she finds herself on the island where her father disappeared (From IMDb).
Review: Debuting in 1996 as a slightly pixelated collection of jagged polygons in a PlayStation game, Lara Croft firmly embedded herself in the pop culture as a sexy female India Jones type character. This computer game archaeologist sex symbol has more magazine covers than any supermodel, more actress have played Lara than actors portraying Bond or Batman, and, with the two Angeline Jolie helmed films, more box-office takings than any video-game adaptation in history. This new version of Lara on the big screen came about due to the rebooted 2013 video game, which re-branded Lara from teenage fantasy to a grown-up adventure hero. Instead of archaeologist barbie supermodel is a gritty, realistic take on the Lara story.
Lara Croft-played by the great Alicia Vikander-lives a hectic life as a bicycle courier in east London. After uncovering clues to her missing father’s (Dominic West) whereabouts, Croft embarks on an adventure to unlock the mysterious tomb of Himiko — the “mother of death”. Lord Richard Croft managed to leave a series of elaborate clues for his daughter, which launches her on a globe-trotting mystery.
Tomb Raider achieves its objective in taking Lara Croft from the rather campy Jolie movie depiction to a more realistic and believable character. This Lara relies on her street smarts to get by and shuns anything to do with her upper class upbringing. Instead of a college education, Lara learns everything she needs to survive on the streets and in the ring at her boxing gym. Ever since her father disappeared five years earlier Lara turned to the streets to deal with the emotional turmoil. One day she stumbles across a box of her father’s research and starts to put the clues together about where he went. She convinces Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to come with her. His father had ferried Richard Croft off to his unknown location and also disappeared five years ago. When they arrive at the island, they discover Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) leading a team of indentured people trying to dig up the tomb of Himiko.
I like Lara Croft, even though I never played the games I did enjoy the Jolie films. One thing Tomb Raider has over the Jolie films is realism and a better narrative arc. While the Jolie films could fall into absurdity at times, this film stays firmly rooted in reality. The mythology behind Himiko arose from a misunderstanding about disease and germs, not the mystical arts. Tomb Raider stays firmly rooted in the present.
My main complaint about Tomb Raider is the poor education of Lara. She comes from a very well-to-do family and has a vast quantity of resources at her disposal. The character supposedly possess a superior knowledge of archaeology and the mythology of the ancient world. Yet this version of Lara barely finished high school and never went to college. For all her street smarts and quick witted repartee, Lara suffers from a lack of education. Everything she knows, she learned from her father but never took her curiosity to the next level. Lara Croft is usually marketed as the female version of Indiana Jones but this version is not his intellectual equal. I have no qualms with female action stars and Vikander does an excellent job. But this version of the character is not as intellectual as she needed to be in order to sell the archaeologist-adventurer hybrid.
Walton Goggins, as always, plays an excellent villain. Mathias Vogel leads a ragtag group of thugs and a bunch of down-on-their luck sailors turned indentured diggers. Vogel takes orders from a mysterious boss and cannot leave the island until he uncovers the grave of the Mother of Death. His efforts prove unsuccessful until Lara and Lu Ren show up and he forcibly makes them help. Ever since appearing on the television show Justified, Goggins keeps popping up in increasingly larger budget films, usually as a bit player. This appearance is one of his first as a main character. He does an excellent job with his rather two dimensional character.
Overall, Tomb Raider is an solid film that could have been better. All the actors do and excellent job, the plot makes sense, and the action sequences are well executed. The problem is that the version of Lara does not seem any different from any other generic female action heroine. While I enjoyed watching the movie and will probably buy the DVD, I cannot really remember any stand out scenes or memorable action sequences. It came across as a “been there, seen that” film.