Like tomb raiding itself, making Tomb Raider films is a bizarre luxury reserved for the bored rich, an expensive and farcical effort unlikely to ever reap any real reward. The latest such attempt, the third since the initial 2001 Lara Croft movie outing, shares in its predecessors’ slim returns, but it does find an unexpected old relic buried in its cinematic rubble: the nearly in-tact script from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade! It’s a treasure that belongs in a museum, but the greedy filmmakers here are trying to use its magic themselves—and as anyone who’s seen Last Crusade knows, that never works.
Also loosely based on the 2013 Tomb Raider game that reinvented the character with more dirt splotches and less grotesquely sexualized anatomy, the film sees the role of Lara Croft taken over by Alicia Vikander, the Academy Award-winner apparently trying to top husband and Assassin’s Creed star Michael Fassbender in dour slogs of video game adaptations. As things begin, Lara’s father, Richard (Dominic West), has been missing for seven years. Unwilling to acknowledge his death and accept her vast inheritance, our tank top-loving hero spends her origin story sequences slumming it, training in mixed martial arts (naturally, this comes back) and getting in lengthy, illegal street chases with her fellow bike messengers (vexingly, this doesn’t).
Finally deciding to sign off on dad’s will, Lara is given a puzzle that leads to her finding his secret journal—a topical diary containing the clues that lead to an ancient, presumed-magical tomb. In a post-mortem message, Richard demands his daughter destroy the book, lest it fall into the wrong hands; instead, she uses it to head out in search for him, heading straight into the very ruthless militants she was meant to keep the diary from.
That’s only the beginning of Tomb Raider‘s liberal “tribute” to Indiana Jones, but to reveal the even more on-the-nose bits would be to give away the film’s already strained surprises. Suffice to say, the picture only suffers from the needless comparisons writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons draw. It’s like getting whiffs of a Brooklyn pizzeria, then being force-fed a microwaved Mama Celeste from a gas station freezer. Or, more specifically, it’s like giving us a scene we know to be lighthearted, pulpy fun, then recreating it as a lazily dramatic, generic action-thriller punctuated by the dried up little pepperonis of Graeme Revell’s swelling, hand-holding score.
Still, while Angelina Jolie played the title role with a knowing remove and sometimes questionable accent, Vikander brings a relatable energy and natural charisma that really carries the character—at least until Croft becomes a complete cypher in the film’s second act. But it’s a testament to Vikander that she’s even able to hold her thankless role afloat as long as she does. West and our slimly-defined baddie, Walton Goggins, aren’t so lucky. The smirking charm they’ve effortlessly shown in their prestige TV breakouts—The Wire and Justified, respectively—is completely stifled here. Anyone who’s thought “I would watch Walton Goggins be a villain in anything” has yet to see how Tomb Raider smacks the sly smile off his face for this mirthless adventure.
Closing in eye-rolling fan service, Tomb Raider really isn’t bad so much as yet another sub-mediocre potboiler finding a way to tap a new revenue stream from the lucrative video game market. And, to be fair, it does capture the game mechanics pretty well in its forgettable but varied action sequences, each of which begs for a flashing “PRESS X!” to pull the audience from its growing apathy. But if the idea here is video game accuracy, Christ, couldn’t she at least shoot a bear or two?
Director: Roar Uthaug
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Runtime: 118 minutes
Cast: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas