The new Tomb Raider film – starring, of course, young archaeologist Lara Croft – could have seemed (ahem) entombed to failure. This game-to-cinema franchise hasn’t been dug up (see what we did there?) for a while, and understandably so, considering how the only two other instalments shaped up. The Angelina Jolie films of the Noughties were basically all hype and no trousers, skimpy or otherwise. It wasn’t long before HMV bargain bins across the country hoovered up DVD copies of both films like quicksand that their lead character would usually be eager to jump straight across.
With the 21st century having seen Christopher Nolan and Daniel Craig help to modernise respectively the previously campy Batman and Bond franchises with more grit, the time did seem ripe for Tomb Raider to get the same treatment. This film’s Lara isn’t the same as the one that adorned bottles of Lucozade in the 1990s; it’s the more intellectually stimulating Croft of the critically acclaimed 2013 reboot of the game series. Presumably in line with this more down-to-earth approach, the filmmakers have jettisoned Brad Pitt’s ex in favour of young Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander.
As you would expect from an Oscar winner, the Swedish actress certainly shows her acting chops in portraying an in-depth personality for Lara. In a Batman Begins-style origin story, Lara is scrimping and saving in London while struggling to believe the news that her archaeologist father Lord Richard Croft, played in flashbacks with charming paternal affection by The Wire’s Dominic West, has supposedly died during an adventure abroad. Lara’s disbelief leads her to head off to try to find him.
There’s no doubt that Vikander has physically thrown herself into the role. Some of the more intense action set-pieces, including Lara’s near-death escapes from first a rollicking boat and then a discarded and disintegrating plane, feel like Terminator action scenes seamlessly transplanted into a jungle realm. Norwegian director Roar Uthaug also throws in some light relief courtesy of Nick Frost as a wisecracking pawn shop owner. Walton Goggins’ villain – Mathias Vogel, an archaeologist rival of Lara’s father – is one of the less effective characters, being something of a charisma vacuum.
Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to see so many elements that firmly ground the story in reality. You shouldn’t expect the excessive silliness that plagued the National Treasure films – and, unlike them, this Tomb Raider outing gets a more immediately likeable lead than a wooden Nicolas Cage. This particular film probably still isn’t original enough to warrant the sequel it blatantly teases; however, given that the archaeologist adventure genre can feel old like the relics for which Lara hunts, it remains perhaps as solid a cinematic Tomb Raider reboot as we are likely to get right now.