Given how she’s an engaging, multi-layered character whose games are exciting and cinematic, you’d think it would be easy to make a good Tomb Raider movie out of the adventures of Lara Croft. And yet here we are again, watching as yet another attempt goes down in flames.
Based loosely on the 2013 reboot, Tomb Raider has a twenty-something Lara Croft [Ex Machina‘s Alicia Vikander] finally accepting that her dad [John Carter‘s Dominic West] is dead after being missing for seven years, only to learn he wasn’t just a businessman, but an Indiana Jones-esque archeologist as well. Following clues he left behind, she follows his trail to a mysterious Japanese island that may or may not be the final resting place of a fabled Japanese queen who, legend has it, may be immortal and able to kill people with her touch.
Sadly, this is not where hilarity ensues. Or a great adventure. Instead, Tomb Raider is a rote and often lifeless misfire that is best summed up by two scenes that waste the comic talents of Nick Frost of Hot Fuzz and Paul fame. Neither are funny, nor add anything to the story or the character of Lara Croft, and in fact seem to only have been kept in the final cut of the movie because they have a moment that played well in the trailer among fans of the game…a scene which would’ve worked just had it just been a Marvel-esque mid-credits bon mot.
It also doesn’t help that so much of Tomb Raider is spent on the set-up, and so little on the pay off. While the movie gets a bit better when she makes it to the island, this doesn’t happen until somewhere between the middle and the beginning of the third act. It really feels it’s missing at least one major set piece in the back half, maybe more, while a bunch of scenes in the first third seem really unnecessary.
All of these problems are why Tomb Raider is just kind of there, thin and unsubstantial. The original game had a far better version of this story, one that had much better character development, as well as more interesting supporting cast for Lara to work with, play off of, and care about. Granted, this is far better than 2001’s poorly directed and badly written Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and its even less interesting sequel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life, but that’s not saying much.
In fact, the only truly good thing about Tomb Raider is Vikander, who is as likeable here as she was in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. But she’s the lone interesting character in a cast full of flat, lifeless portrayals, and even she could use a bit of fleshing out.
There’s also one part of Tomb Raider that diverges from the game in a big but interesting and effective way…albeit one I can’t talk about further without spoiling something. And while some fans of the games might lament that it removes a crucial element from the Tomb Raider mythos — myself included — it actually works in this context.
Even with this and Vikander’s magnetic performance, Tomb Raider ends up being a real wasted opportunity. And an inexcusable one. Which is why, despite disliking this movie, I kind of want you to go see it in theaters…if only so it’ll make enough money to warrant a sequel. Maybe then they’ll get it right.