As far as action-presumptive franchises based on video games go, I’ve seen worse than Tomb Raider. That’s not much of an accomplishment, and if my backhanded compliment is any indication, this tepid reboot of a 17-year-old film based on a 22-year-old game is not very good. Though it’s a drastic improvement over the Angelina Jolie vehicles that came before, and though Alicia Vikander is vastly superior to Jolie in the title role, this most recent iteration’s attempts to reinvigorate what amounts to a stale Indiana Jones ripoff contribute little novelty and even less entertainment value.
While I certainly didn’t expect high art from Tomb Raider, I did expect something more fun. The film is a competent if dispassionate origin story covering substantially the same ground as the 2001 Jolie version, albeit with a more human edge. Vikander’s Lara Croft, heiress to a vast business empire who would rather work as a bike courier and get her ass kicked at an MMA gym than sit in a boardroom, is presented as something more relatable than previous depictions of the character. It’s a nice touch, but one that can’t overcome the film’s inherent lack of verve.
The plot hinges on Lara’s search for her father (Dominic West), a tycoon who, unbeknownst to his family, moonlit as an adventurer and went missing on a remote Japanese island. Reluctant to sign the legal documents acknowledging his death in order to take control of the family business, Lara goes off on a last-ditch effort to uncover the fate of dear old dad. This process embroils her in some nebulously defined conspiracy, embodied by the incomparable Walton Goggins, on the part of an organization searching for some mystical MacGuffin in the titular tomb. It’s pretty standard stuff, and although the central cast does its best to sell it, there’s little at play here that hasn’t been presented more effectively (and affectively) elsewhere.
Part of the problem here is that director Roar Uthaug seems utterly uninterested in the action set pieces that a film of this nature requires, treating them like compulsory stops on the way to a more fulfilling emotional story that never materializes. The scenes of flashy spectacle and video game throwbacks are there, but they fall distinctly flat. It would seem that Uthaug along with writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons were hellbent on presenting Lara Croft as a modern exemplar of the Strong Female Protagonist without realizing that in order to accomplish that feat, they needed to make her interesting first.
If the problems of turning a pixelated sprite best known for the type of chest that doesn’t contain treasure into a feminist icon weren’t entirely insurmountable, Tomb Raider fails to accomplish its evident goal by virtue of its lackluster script, clunky exposition and dissonant direction. It’s one thing for an action movie of this ilk to be mindless, quite another for it to be boring. If watching wealthy people destroy priceless archaeological sites for reasons that are never clearly defined is your cup of tea, this might be up your alley — but I can’t imagine there are many such people out there, and both box office receipts and critical consensus seem to back me up on that assertion. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some language.
Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville, Strand of Waynesville.