Bleached hair. Chain wallets. Casual sports wear. Like almost everything from the 90s, Lara Croft hasn’t aged well. Once a pistol-toting cyberbabe who spawned a hit video game franchise and, with two Angeline Jolie-fronted movies, provided the basis for the highest-grossing video game adaptation in history, the turn of the century saw her become a cartoonishly sexualised symbol of ridicule.
Of course, Tomb Raider is not about that Croft – as Alicia Vikander’s Lara is at pains to point out. Instead, this reboot takes its lead from the 2013 video game of the same name, which successful retooled the intrepid explorer as a gritty and grounded heroine for a new generation. Gone are the implausibly pneumatic breasts and skimpy hot pants. In their place, is an angry, impulsive millennial who simply isn’t as fun as the original.
We find Lara seeking greater relatability by abandoning her aristocratic inheritance for a flatshare in Shoreditch and a job as a bicycle courier. But when her long missing father (Dominic West) is officially declared dead, she discovers a puzzle box that may hold a clue to his whereabouts. From there, Tomb Raider largely parrots the plot of the video game as a raw and untested Lara sets sail for a hidden island off the coast of Japan in search of her father, only to find herself fighting for her very survival after she uncovers a clandestine organisation who are working to unleash a deadly ancient spirit buried beneath the island.
Directed by Roar Uthaug, whose Norwegian slasher movie Fritt Vilt unleashed all manner of horrors upon a game cast while atop the Scandinavian mountains, Tomb Raider similarly draws plenty of cinematic thrills from an unforgiving terrain. While some of the action swings towards the preposterous – Lara’s companion is a surprisingly skilled fighter for a drunk fisherman – Uthaug effectively executes plenty of pulsating chases and daring leaps as Lara is put through her paces on the island. Yet it’s let down by an uninspiring script that seems content to recycle the genre’s most obvious tropes – tombs are raided, temples are uncovered, puzzles are cracked – with a plodding predictability that saps much of the pace from the story.
The cast at least try to instil some semblance of deeper meaning into their roles. Vikander reveals a soulful young woman behind Lara’s steely determined exterior, although her struggles during the movie’s attempts at light-hearted banter suggests she lacks the natural charisma to succeed as a leading action hero. Meanwhile, Dominic West is ideally suited to playing Lara’s refined rogue of a father and Walton Goggins does a good line in sweaty desperation as the movie’s ostensible baddie. But again it’s work that’s hampered by a script that hints at characterisation – Lara struggles to come to terms with the loss of her father; Goggins’ Vogel misses his daughters – but never bothers to probe any deeper.
This darker, edgier take on the character might have all the makings of a 21st Century icon, but until her story is similarly refreshed, Lara Croft might be better off consigned to the archives.
Runtime: 118 mins (approx.)
Director: Roar Uthaug
Screenwriters: Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons
Stars: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Kristin Scott Thomas