What’s old is new again. In this case, the ‘Tomb Raider’ franchise is making a comeback, just 17 years after Angelina Jolie first brought the character to the big screen - that’s barely enough time for it to become vintage. It’s hardly anything new for Hollywood, with every second film out these days either a remake, reimagining, sequel, prequel or spinoff. But does this particular property get the overhaul it deserves?
This time around, we have Alicia Vikander ('The Light Between Oceans', ‘The Danish Girl’, 'Ex Machina') as Lara Croft. Her adventurer father Richard (Dominic West, 'The Square', TV’s 'The Wire') is missing, presumed dead, on a mission to find the tomb of a Japanese queen locked away on a deadly and near-impenetrable island. After following a trail of clues her father left for her, Lara heads to the island with the help of captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu, basically the only good thing about 'Geostorm', 'Warcraft: The Beginning'). However, an adversary of her father’s, Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins, 'Maze Runner: The Death Cure', 'Django Unchained', TV’s 'The Shield'), is already on the island, and will do anything to get at the tomb first.
This all sounds like pretty interesting stuff. Mark my words, the latter portion is a worthy adventure film. But before we get there, we have to endure some really superfluous plot points and disturbingly bad dialog. This isn’t just cheesy action dialog - this is clunky, retch-inducing writing from Geneva Robertson-Dworet (who will also be partially responsible for the upcoming ‘Captain Marvel’) and Alastair Siddons (‘Trespass Against Us’). Neither of these two have a decent writing credit to their name, and just one feature film between the two of them that’s been released to date. Definitely an odd choice for a reboot of a major franchise.
Lara as a character is also just bland. She’s now just a modern girl in modern London, struggling to make ends meet (yes, despite her large family fortune) and doing everyday girl stuff like riding around on a bike with a fox tail and a leaky bucket of paint attached while 20 guys try to catch her. We get it - she’s multitalented. The character setup is far, far too long for someone we’re already familiar with - and if not, you can get the gist of it very quickly. On the upside, this rendition of Lara isn’t a perfect solider - she’s crafted as a very flawed and very human daughter bravely trying to find out what happened to her dad. She suffers a great deal of injury, she makes mistakes, and when she kills people, boy oh boy, do we feel her regret.
Mark my words, the latter portion is a worthy adventure film. But before we get there, we have to endure some really superfluous plot points and disturbingly bad dialog.
It’s also Vikander’s performance that’s a little questionable here. Lara is super-serious in everything she does, which is partly the script’s fault, and partly the acting. Vikander plays this role straight as an arrow (ironically, one of Lara’s weapons of choice) with a character that could have been a lot of fun. Still, nobody’s treated particularly well: Dominic West comes off somewhere between a pathetic shell of a man and an escaped mental patient, while Walton Goggins’ antagonist is just a bad guy for the sake of being bad. Without a real motivation, he just seems to go around shooting people in the head and blowing things up with no direction or purpose.
It’s a shame that all of this potential with story and cast goes to waste, as there is some genuinely interesting direction in here. Roar Uthaug (‘The Wave’, ‘Escape’) really shines when it comes to the action set pieces, with an overall great combination of psychical and visual effects - the plane/waterfall scene is a spectacularly nail-biting highlight. It’s also a waste of both Vikander and Daniel Wu; for a film that has one of the greatest female action figures at its centre with a non-white character as her offsider, it could have been so much more.
So did we need another ‘Tomb Raider’? The negatives far outweigh the positives in this reboot, with a script and characterisations abysmal enough to make your eyes bleed. If you dare to embark on the long and winding path to the action we’re all waiting for, and you're willing to stick with it until we finally get inside the titular tomb, there’s still nothing in this predictable story that will surprise you. The modern Lara Croft is an improvement, but only marginally. This film needed a stronger team to bring this feisty female’s story to the big screen.