Despite its cast’s best efforts, ‘Tomb Raider’ deserves to be buried

Daniel Young

You won’t find much to treasure in this year’s “Tomb Raider.”

Originally a series of video games, it was only a matter of time before “Tomb Raider” got rebooted given Hollywood’s affection for franchises. With Alicia Vikander as the lead, the latest iteration of “Tomb Raider” follows a young Lara Croft on a journey around the world as she becomes the eponymous Tomb Raider fans know and love. Led by a mysterious clue left by her missing father, Croft faces down a brutal group of mercenaries in a quest to protect an ancient burial place.

“Tomb Raider’s” most positive aspect by far is Vikander’s Lara Croft. Whereas the Jolie version played into male fantasies as a sexy tomboy, Vikander’s exists without sexualization. Refraining from framing a shot to show off a heroine’s body or costuming her in something revealing shouldn’t be hard, but it’s surprisingly tough to find an adventure film that respects its female characters as much as “Tomb Raider.”

Beyond that, though, the movie is average.

The film expects you to believe that its characters are smart in the same way that “Dora the Explorer” would have children believe Dora is capable of adventuring without chaperones. Most of the film’s central characters are presented as “geniuses” in their own right, yet they prove in every scene just how dumb they are. The plot seems to kick off for almost no reason, and from there the decisions characters make seem to only become more ridiculous.

Most of the interesting ideas the film presents in its first two acts are forgotten by its final one, and for every harrowing, pulse-pounding action set piece it has, there seem to be two others that fly by on screen without making much of an impact. In one case, the film dedicates an entire flashback sequence to the origins of a necklace which Lara sells almost immediately afterward. In fact, the flashback sequences are the clearest indicators that the filmmakers didn’t think much of their audience’s intelligence. Why else would they use them to “remind” us about plot points that aren’t even ten minutes old?

Throughout all of this, though, Vikander and the rest the cast cannot really be blamed, as their  talent is 90 percent of what makes “Tomb Raider” watchable. Walton Goggins actually brings a surprising amount of nuance to Mathias Vogel, the movie’s dastardly, albeit run-down, antagonist. The script seems to forget halfway through what’s pitting Mathias against Lara, but Goggins clearly remembers his character’s motivations, and the work he does to make you believe that Mathias is driven by a desire to see his family again is, well, deserving of a better movie. Daniel Wu doesn’t have much to do as Lara’s drunken companion, but he does just about everything he can with his sparse part. Even Dominic West, whose performance as Lara’s father — the dumb character that the movie most egregiously wants you to believe is a genius — manages to make Richard Croft bearable, even interesting in some
brief moments.

Unfortunately, none of the performances save “Tomb Raider” from its own mediocrity. With a wildly-uneven plot and a scared script, the film shies away from any fresh concepts it initially introduces. Attempts to modernize and reimagine the film’s source material, specifically 2013’s “Tomb Raider” game, feel misguided and possibly alienating for some viewers.

Ultimately, “Tomb Raider” isn’t terrible, but the fact that it’s so middling is almost more disappointing than if it had been outright bad. It’s a franchise with so much potential, and with all of the talent that was brought in to work on this movie, it’s a shame we couldn’t see a better pay-off.

“Tomb Raider”

Running Time: 118 minutes

MPAA RAID-ing: PG-13

RAID-ing: 2.5/5