Courtesy of Warner Bros.
For decades, Hollywood has tried to master to art of turning video game properties into sustaining franchises. There's a long list of films, starting with "Super Mario Brothers" and ending last year with "Assassin's Creed" and they all have one general thing in common: they aren't very good. The new "Tomb Raider" doesn't buck the trend of bad video game movies, but it is better, in comparison, to the Angelina Jolie starrer from 2001.
Not to say those films were exactly cinematic masterpieces, but Oscar winner Alicia Vikander steps into the shoes of Laura Croft and with that she adds a certain authenticity to the character. Director Roar Uthaug does a fine job at keeping in tune with the spirit of the popular video game, but that could also be the biggest hurdle.
Fans of the game, myself included, will spot almost every Easter egg and nod to the series - including the opening prologue detailing the disappearance of Laura's father when she was only 12. Its a quick setup before we see Croft tapping out inside a boxers ring (maybe to show us that she's tough but has weakness?) Laura is strapped for cash, and she delivers food on a bike to scrape by, except she's a fortune waiting in the wings, but in order to claim her inheritance she must accept that dad isn't coming back.
Lucky for Ms. Croft, a trail of breadcrumbs and encoded messages leads to a hidden office with maps and tribulations for a secretive mission that was the lifeblood of her dad's work. He warns that the "Himiko" file must be burned and destroyed to stop it from falling in the wrong hands.
Naturally, instead of following the instructions Laura sets out to decode the mysterious island where "Himiko" supposedly took place. This leads to a shady "Trinity" organization, a drunken sailor named Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) and the big baddie Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins).
Turns out, Vogel has been stranded for seven years on this island, somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, enslaving anyone that happens to stumble upon their rock, and because Laura didn't follow dads instructions Voglel now has the keys to the kingdom. Which, of course, has to deal with some ungodly plague and mass world domination. When will bad guys stop being so one dimensional?
Some of the action sequences are fairly well staged, and Vikander looks to be having a blast and fit enough to hold up. if you've played the games, some of those moments will feel eerily familiar (I kept wanting to press the "X" button on my controller to jump to the next ledge). But this is nothing we haven't seen before, and that's where "Tomb Raider" feels a bit weighted. On one hand, the film is so ridiculously silly, I was laughing at the audacity in the plot, which requires an extra amount of strain to pull you through. And then, for that reason alone, "Tomb Raider" feels outlandish.
I did enjoy a sequence early in the film where Laura is chased through the burrows of London on a bike, one of the few moments that showed her smart versatility. As for Vogel, Goggins is a commendable actor, with more than a few solid credits under his belt. Sadly, he's given almost nothing to do as the shady villain, except throw out lines like "get her!" and kill useless side characters as to earn the badge of "bad guy." Likewise for Wu who literally takes a backseat to all the action, to the point where I forgot he was in the film, a wasted opportunity for the well respected international actor.
I'm very split on my final approach to "Tomb Raider" - if not for a last second third act narrative shift that really made me groan, I'd sway on the side of recommending the picture, on the basis of Vikander alone. I wouldn't mind to see the series continue, and if it does, let's hope Vikander is given a worthier opponent with more original motives (maybe there's something other than deadly plagues?) That needs to happen or else it might be game over.