Behold Alicia Vikander, leaping, swinging, and flexing her way through Tomb Raider—a franchise resurrected not because there was consumer demand, but because it is a brand name everyone recognizes.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, released in 2001, is still the video-game movie adaptation with the largest gross in domestic history. (The Resident Evil films blow it out of the water worldwide, as does, Lord help us, The Angry Birds Movie.) But its 2003 sequel, the perplexingly named Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, was an underperformer. Gamers have their own relationship to the character, but those who aren’t in the fold, if they think about her at all, hear the name “Lara Croft” and instantly conjure up Angelina Jolie at her most adventuresome and buoyant, playing a more agile, puzzle-solving, female answer to Indiana Jones. The movies themselves were terrible, but as a snapshot of the period’s pop culture, Jolie in Croft’s athletic outfits bordered on iconic.
By contrast, the only thing about the new Tomb Raider with any pizzazz is the name of its director: Roar Uthaug. (It gets less exciting when you learn he is Norwegian; perhaps he was one of five different Roars in his class.) Uthaug’s take on this material is almost aggressively boring. I checked my watch: the first tomb doesn’t get raided until 76 minutes into the movie’s 116-minute run time. Seventy-six minutes!
So, what happens in those first 75 minutes? After some expository voice-over about an ancient curse that goes in one ear and out the other, we meet Vikander’s Croft: a tough, kickboxing bike messenger. Jolie, if you recall, was living like a zillionaire, taking steamy showers surrounded by servants; “I’m not that kind of Croft,” Vikander says more than once, which I suppose is something that will cause a dust-up on the last remaining Tomb Raider message boards.
But her extreme lifestyle hides a secret: she is, in fact, an heiress, and would inherit the Croft fortune if she’d just sign the official papers acknowledging her father’s death. But while Papa Croft (Dominic West) disappeared on a trip to Japan seven years ago, his body was never found.
A quick scene with business minders Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi leads to the first breadcrumb, then a puzzle, then a picture; finally, Lara heads to Hong Kong to try and track down her missing dad. There, after a chase with local hoods, she meets Lu Ren (the abundantly charismatic Daniel Wu), a ship captain whose father also disappeared when he was hired by Lara’s father seven years ago. From here on in, both characters only wear tank tops.
They decrypt a message from a journal, find coordinates to a hidden island, get into a wreck, and, next thing you know, end up slaves of Walton Goggins. He’s there at the behest of some unseen bigwig to find whatever it was that Dominic West was looking for. For a hot minute, it all feels like the 1976 King Kong.
But suddenly, Goggins sends everyone on a dangerous march . There are baddies with guns, but if you’re looking for traps and adventure and stealing things from caves, you’ve got to wait. Past another chase and a lot of thrashing about in a waterfall. Even when—spoiler alert, I suppose—Dominic West turns up after all to babble about curses and magic, we still haven’t raided any damn tombs!
Even once the promise of the title finally kicks in, there’s another problem: nobody brought any damn lights. Uthaug, whose previous adventure film The Wave was corny but at least kept up the tempo, shoots a lot of the action in settings so dim we can’t actually see anything.
The other main issue, alas, is Vikander. While she’s likable and offers no shortage of concerned, white-of-the-eye reaction shots, she simply doesn’t click as an action hero under Uthaug’s direction. When she’s supposed to let out a war cry, she gives a whimper. Her skin always looks gorgeous, despite all the tussling—no doubt the humidity of the island jungle is doing good work for everyone’s pores. But this plus some very noticeable C.G.I. creates a teflon quality to the danger that keeps the suspension of disbelief far at bay.
All that would be forgivable if something original were happening on screen; it isn’t. I never thought I’d say this, but the similar Alien vs. Predator is a masterpiece in comparison to this reboot. While I wasn’t exactly expecting greatness from the film, I did think it would contain a few thrills and maybe some laughs. Having Lara Croft leap around and avoid traps should be an easy formula—but for this crew, it remains an unsolvable puzzle.