Lara Croft returns. But did we really miss her?

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander has burst into the American moviegoer’s consciousness in a very short time with impressive performances in Testament of Youth, The Danish Girl (for which she won a Supporting Actress Oscar), The Light Between Oceans, and perhaps most notably, as Ava, the hypnotic android in Ex Machina. Even in her moments of cinematic slumming (The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Jason Bourne), Vikander, who blends both exotic beauty and fierce intelligence, managed to bring some gravitas to nothing-burger supporting roles.

So, you can excuse this film fanboy for hoping that her casting as Lara Croft in a remake of Tomb Raider offered the faint hope of breathing some class and substance into an adventure thriller based on the bestselling video game series. After all, Angelina Jolie had already demonstrated her inability to give genuine dimension to a shallow character more noteworthy for her tight shirts and short shorts than for her abilities with weaponry and puzzle-solving. Alas, in a sadly missed opportunity, Vikander too has been overpowered by her nemesis: the sloppy storytelling and vacuous characters in this creaky mess of a movie.

Although some view the video game series as some sort of breakthrough with its female adventure protagonist, Tomb Raider has also been met with deserved scorn for its focus on the character’s physical attributes at the expense of her intelligence and resourcefulness.

The new remake, based largely on the plot from the 2013 reboot of the game, focuses on Lara Croft’s attempt to find her missing father, who disappeared years ago on a mysterious quest and is presumed dead. Lara discovers her father’s secret study and learns of his search for an island housing the tomb of a Japanese sorceress. She follows his footprints and attempts to complete his mission. 

In this cinematic version, the action sequences are tautly staged by director Roar Uthang, and the core mystery in the story is mildly engaging. But this critic couldn’t shake the feeling that I had seen virtually every set piece done before (and in fact, much better the first time). One moment feels stolen from Raiders of the Lost Ark; another could have come from any of the recent Bond films. It all just feels so derivative. Moreover, the screenplay makes no effort to explain how the Lara Croft character came to have the amazing skill set necessary to implement her plan; she simply can do all these things because the script requires her to do so. Sloppy and unsatisfying.

Vikander is a beautiful and talented actress who holds the screen, even with such piffling material. But she can’t overcome the huge implausibilities of the plot or the tired nature of the action scenes. Dominic West (TV’s The Wire) fails to breathe any life into the paint-by-the-number roles of her father, Richard Croft. Walton Goggins is appropriately menacing as the main villain Vogel, but his lack of backstory makes his malice hollow and unconvincing.

In the end, Tomb Raider the film fails to transcend the two-dimensional roots of its story and character. Lara Croft can be great fun when all that is required is to win a video game. When needed to sustain a feature film, Lara runs out of extra lives.

Mark Fields
Mark Fields has reviewed films for Out & About since October 2008. In addition, he has written O&A profiles of documentarian Harry Shearer and actress Aubrey Plaza. Mark also has written on the movies for several publications in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and his home state of Indiana, where he also served as on-air movie critic for Indianapolis’s public radio station. Mark has been an adjunct instructor of film history at Rowan University since 1998. A career arts administrator, he is the executive director of Wilmington’s Grand Opera House and now lives on Market Street. Mark spent the fastest 22 minutes of his life as an unsuccessful contestant on Jeopardy…sadly, there were no movie questions.