Director: Roar Uthaug.
There’s a scene in the new “Tomb Raider” film starring Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft, in which she pins down an attacker, locks him in a stranglehold, and chokes him till his body goes limp in death. Presumably, it’s the first time she’s killed anyone, and it’s her emotional state immediately after overcoming her enemy – disturbed, confused, possibly even regretful – that makes it clear why Vikander’s portrayal of the character feels so different from Angelina Jolie’s more than 15 years ago.
Jolie, who twice slipped into the iconic tank top, first in 2001’s “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” and then in “Cradle of Life” two years later, is regarded as the perfect live-action personification of the beloved video game character. An ass-kicking superwoman who knows her way around a pair of guns, and who can be as tough as any of the guys, often without breaking a sweat. Vikander’s version of Croft gets wounded, feels pain, and puts some effort into making those incredible leaps. In other words she’s human and vulnerable.
It’s an approach that serves the film well, raising the stakes just a wee bit when the shit hits the fan after Croft sets off to find her father, who went missing seven years ago after leaving her to find an ancient mythical tomb on a faraway island off the coast of Japan.
Fans of the video game might have a little more patience with the doozy of a plot that involves solving complicated Japanese puzzles or cracking riddles to get past obstacles in the way of the protagonist’s mission. Having traveled from London to Hong Kong, where she hires a boat owned by a drunken sailor (Daniel Wu) to take her to the island of Yamatai, she learns that the Crofts aren’t the only ones searching for the tomb. That’s the cue for a string of action set pieces.
But who are we fooling? That’s exactly what we’re here for, and Norwegian-born director Roar Urthaug stages brutal, realistic sequences that Vikander pulls off nicely, striking just the right balance between a wide-eyed first-time adventurer and slick, confidence-oozing wonder woman. This movie marks the making of Lara Croft as we know her, and Vikander makes her coming of age entirely convincing.
The cast is rounded off by solid actors like Dominic West in the role of Richard Croft, our heroine’s father; and Kristin Scott-Thomas as the caretaker of his businesses, who will likely have a larger role in this film’s sequel if there is one.
The key to becoming invested in the film – despite its overall familiarity and lack of any genuine surprise or originality – is Vikander’s natural performance and her commitment to the physical requirements of the role. She’s the reason “Tomb Raider” isn’t a complete waste of time. I’m going with two-and-a-half out of five.