BY MAX WELLS
It’s been six years since Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix rebooted the infamous Tomb Raider franchise, creating an all new origin story for the iconic treasure-hunting Lara Croft. After the success of the new games, Warner Brothers decided to reboot the film franchise with the games serving as inspiration. The film adaption takes pieces from the two most recent games, Tomb Raider (2013) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (2016), as well as parts from the recent comics. The film stars Academy Award winning actress Alicia Vikander as the new and improved Lara Croft.
The film opens with Lara (Alicia Vikander) during a boxing match where she can’t quite stand her ground, refusing to tap out of her opponents chokehold until the last second. We know right away that Lara may have some training to do, but she’s not the type to back down easy. We move quickly into Lara’s established life as a resilient young woman who works as a bike courier in London, boxes recreationally, takes part in a bicycle street race, and is struggling to get by financially. We’re soon to learn that this is by choice, as her missing and presumed dead father has left behind a mansion and wealth for her. Just on the brink of signing the papers that will unlock access to his fortune, Lara begins to find clues to his potential whereabouts which lead her to search for a supernatural Japanese island.
The film picks up and gets going at that point, as we’re introduced to the films ruthless villain Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) and ship captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) who accompanies Lara on her journey. Goggins manages to portray believable brutality and Wu plays his role well with what the small amount of screen time he’s been given. We also spend some time with Lara’s father (Simon West) who does his part but fails to make any lasting impression.
The rest of the film plays out with Lara having to solve puzzles and overcome dangerous obstacles, showing shades of Indiana Jones and Katniss Everdeen. As Lara is continuously pummelled and struggling to survive, the film creates immense tension and danger in every scene. A standout and welcome element of this Tomb Raider reboot is the realism – the myths remain just myths and Lara isn’t a superhero. She doesn’t easily take down her foes using a few quick kicks, but rather uses her cunning and wit to outsmart them. Her self awareness just adds another dimension of sophistication to the film.
The film even spends some time toward the end setting up a sequel, offering fans a nod to the original films with Lara sporting Jolie’s signature long braid and purchasing dual pistols.
What sets this film apart from the previous Tomb Raider instalments, and action films in general, is Lara Croft’s humanity. Where in the past, Lara (played by Angeline Jolie) was a too-cool-for-school soldier that hardly ever made mistakes, Vikander breathes sympathy and vulnerability into a more grounded Lara. We see the character struggle emotionally and physically: Lara’s devastated after her first kill, and sustains many hard falls and injuries.
Other differences from the previous franchise are pretty superficial – Lara sports proper exploration clothing, and favours her strength and archery skills over Jolie’s dual pistols and short-shorts.
While most of this can be credited to the fact that this film is based off the rebooted 2013 Lara, it also should be credited to Vikander herself. Vikander has previously won an Academy Award, and it shows here. In fact, it could be said that this film may not have worked without her, as there is a certain aspect of predictability and weak writing points. The secret keys, mythical curses, and deadly boot traps have been done before, but a Lara Croft like this hasn’t. Take Vikander out of the picture, and all you have is a somewhat generic action flick. However, her captivating abilities on screen manage to bring life to the story and give you a reason to keep your eyes on the screen.
Just like Lara, this potential series may have started off with a few fumbles, but it shouldn’t give up quite yet.
Tomb Raider is now playing.