“Tomb Raider” succeeds because it bases its video game character in reality while borrowing from film’s best adventurist tales. The movie takes its video game upbringing seriously, but realizes that some parental guidance is needed from “The Mummy” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to bring “Tomb Raider” into film adulthood. Its 118 minutes feel far too long, and the movie often drags needless plot elements into the limelight when they should stay buried in darkness. Still, “Tomb Raider’s” inexperienced yet resourceful hero enables this movie to excavate moments of joy even among its periods of boredom.
Alicia Vikander stars as Lara Croft, an amateur boxer, professional bike messenger, and reluctant heiress to a multinational corporation. Her unwillingness to climb toward her true potential root back to the disappearance of her beloved father Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), whose penchant for archaeology and excavation could be easily measured by the collection of dust on his sweater vests. Lara lacks Richard’s education but makes up for it with enhanced awareness and problem solving capabilities. Richard knows more, but Lara can learn much faster.
It doesn’t take long for Lara to discover what her father was really up to: traveling to a mysterious Asian island to stop the release of an ancient demonic being. She enlists sailor Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to chart a course to the mysterious island. Choppy waters shipwreck the pair and they are held prisoner by the Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), a violent man who really wants nothing more than for his corporate “Cast Away” experience to come to an end.
With Vogel’s appearance, “Tomb Raider” finds the final bolt to build its weak theme of family obligations, where the central characters face an internal conflict of personal duty vs. responsibility to loved ones. Lara is obliged to her father but not his company, Lu’s father has passed away but other prisoners are still devoted to him, and Vogel has no joy in his actual work, but only sees it as a means of hopefully seeing his wife and kids again. The theme is hammered even harder with Vogel’s constant, misplaced discussion about the Croft family, which seems weird, considering the countless years Lara and Richard have spent apart.
This family stuff is here to make “Tomb Raider” feel like a quality movie, but the overindulgence in this theme casts the film back in the shadows of its poorly-plotted video game ancestors. Thankfully, the light returns anytime Lara engages in a physical activity in the movie. Her brawling with gun-clad guards evoke primal glee, her sleek maneuvering through mountains and decaying structures inspire awe, and the Olympic-level firing of her wooden bow is so impressive that it would make even Legolas blush.
All of these skills serve as a deadly stepping stone, culminating with Lara’s adventurer graduation as she descends into the dangerous tomb. The film trudges back into video game plot territory at certain points in this sequence, but is still exciting enough to keep our attention burning. The final seconds are awkward and pay too much fan service, like “Tomb Raider” is telling an inside joke that only it understand. But this final misstep doesn’t push “Tomb Raider” off of its path of success.
The path that brought this “Tomb Raider” to life, though, could have easily lead to failure. First, there were the original video games following Lara Croft, who carried a pair of over-sized pistols to go with her pair of pointy, over-sized polygon breasts. Those games inspired the first two “Tomb Raider” movies starring Angelina Jolie in the early 2000s. The game was rebooted twice, with a more serious, less breasty 2013 installment that garnered critical acclaim. That 2013 version is the one on which this movie is based.
That makes “Tomb Raider” both a reboot of a film franchise and a movie inspired by a rebooted video game. The fact that the movie is based off a video game pushes it towards critical and box office disaster, but the fact that its a reboot pulls it back to Hollywood success and acclaim. Both of “Tomb Raider’s” inscribed destinies end up cancelling each other out, allowing the movie to exist with its own voice and on its own terms.