‘Tomb Raider’ (2018) review: Dulling the arrowhead

Alicia Vikander-led reboot fails to make impression

Did you play the fantastic 2013 reboot of “Tomb Raider” by Crystal Dynamics/Square Enix? Did you, by chance, enjoy that game’s interesting plot, engrossing set-pieces and believable heroine, a Lara Croft you actually could see wanting to solve mysteries and explore tombs and inflict fiery vengeance upon all those who wronged her?

I did, and I thoroughly enjoyed just about every minute of that game (except when I was impaled by the deadly of tree branches, but that’s beside the point). And that’s why I bring up the game in the first play: The latest film iteration of the long-running video game franchise, “Tomb Raider,” is basically a just a much more lackluster, 118-minute version of that award-winning game.

Almost the entire premise is lifted whole-cloth from the game, particularly the second half’s setting (a mysterious island called Yamatai that’s somewhere in the Dragon’s Triangle off the coast of Japan) and a major entity that remains mostly unseen (Himiko, a Japanese queen said to inflict death just with a touch; in the game, she controls the weather). Entire action sequences rip off some of the game’s most thrilling scenes (a deadly nighttime encounter, a roaring waterfall, those deadly tree branches).

And what the film does decide to change negatively impacts the film and its supposedly adventurist heroine, Lara Croft. Starring Oscar-winning Alicia Vikander (instead of Angelina Jolie, who helmed the last two films in 2003 and 2001), “Tomb Raider” kicks off with a punch to the face in a gritty, intense boxing scenario. You see, gone is the character who well-versed in archaeology, history and physical combat (and isn’t too bad with a handgun); instead, we’re treated to a Lara Croft who wanted nothing to do with any of that. She’d rather be a courier and punching bag than the heiress to a vast fortune.

You see, her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), has been missing for seven years, and everyone but Lara assumes he is dead. Not unreasonable, but one can understand why a daughter who loves her father so wouldn’t want to give up on him. However, Lara is unable to accept her inheritance unless she legally declares him dead. She’d even lose Croft Manor, the sprawling mansion of her youth that we don’t visit during this entire film.

Before we get any further into how this wayward daughter earns her sidearms, I want it to be known that Vikander actually does a pretty decent job here. Her sense of physicality and her ability to infuse a feminine intensity in her roles does wonders here, especially when facing the film’s numerous male villains. It doesn’t hurt that her physical appearance is more in-tune with the look that the 2013 game created: a younger woman, lean and empowered without needing to be objectified. It’s not all about her beauty this time around (even if her skimpy tank top still factors in).

“Tomb Raider,” directed by Roar Uthaug (“The Wave”) is meant to be an origin story, much like the 2013 game, which offered all the opportunity for Vikander to step in and create her own heroine. For the most part, she did (even if it’s strikingly similar to the Crystal Dynamics entry). She isn’t as self-assured; she’s startled by the brutality of the situation in which she’s stuck; and she shows a vulnerability that only existed in Jolie’s films when she contended with father issues.

However, there’s only so much she can do to save a script that has her playing second fiddle for far too long in too many important scenes.

Still, there’s an adventure to be told, I guess, and it starts with Lara discovering a secret from her father, locked away in a puzzle box. (She only finds this box once she’s about ready to sign on the dotted line that her father is dead, during which Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi do some nice work as key figures in the Croft business.)

This revelation leads to another, one that opens Lara’s eyes to the work her father was doing before his disappearance: tracking the location of Himiko and seeking to prevent others from obtaining her deathly abilities. Next up? A rollickin’ trip to Hong Kong where she meets up a drunken, rifle-wielding ship captain, Lu Ren (a solid if underused Daniel Wu), who’s just crazy enough to trek through the dangerous waters separating them from Yamatai.

These water scenes are the first of many visually exciting set-pieces that take place in the film’s second half. After dealing with tempestuous Mother Nature at sea, the pair finds themselves up against the environment once again as they reach dry land. Oh, and many, many bad guys with guns (and Chinese men forced to work) under the ever-present glare of Mathias Vogel (a boring Walton Goggins), who’s also seeking Himiko.

The vault, by the way, is supposed to represent the “tomb” in “Tomb Raider.” But while it is an actual tomb, there’s not much raiding going here, just puzzle solving and chasm-defying jumps. (It would seem Vikander’s Croft has a knack for hanging on to dear life with just one arm.) Much like in the 2001 film, Croft mush outrace the bad guys to save the world from whatever evil in lurking in this not-quite-forgotten tomb of death.

In the end, the rebooted “Tomb Raider” just doesn’t quite hit the mark. Its lead and some of the visuals notwithstanding, there’s little here to recommend. Vikander was a nice choice to helm a possible franchise, but her skill doesn’t make up for a plot that lacks charisma or motivation. Honestly, I’d suggest you pick up the 2013 video game of the same name. At least that has a worthwhile story (even if does involve the same Japanese death queen).

Two “I need to learn archery” stars out of five.

“Tomb Raider” (2013) video game review (You know, just in case.)

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