Somehow, Alicia Vikander can do no wrong. When an actress makes a movie better just by walking into each scene, that’s called star power. “Tomb Raider” is a full reboot of the 2001 feature, starring none other than Angelina Jolie. Based on the rebooted 2013 video game, the challenge has been to bring the game-girl to life.
Swedish born Vikander is a big fan of the video game series. She won the role when Daisy Ridley booked her latest “Star Wars” flick and Kristen Stewart turned it down. Without possessing a strong physical presence or a given superpower, Vikander is exceedingly agile, offers a sheer will and determination and is a charming actress.
As Lara Croft, she plays the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer. Industrialist Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) vanished seven years ago when Lara was just a teen. Now, without any real focus or purpose, Lara navigates the chaotic London streets as a bike courier. This gives a perfect opportunity for one of the most exhilarating bike chase scenes since Joseph Gordon Levitt in “Premium Rush” (2012).
Vikander establishes herself as a credible action star. She’s sufficiently convincing on the bike, in the boxing ring and parkour-lite running scenes. She’s equally exciting with a bow and arrow, riding the river rapids, swinging on vines and navigating the “fun house” of caves and booby traps. She trained with a kickboxing world champion and performed most of her own stunts. Mostly, Vikander is bright, clever and carries sufficient gravitas to carry this big-budget blockbuster that should morph into a series.
For Lara to take over her father’s global empire would be admitting his death. He may have been searching for the fabled tomb of an evil ancient queen. Lara remembers dear old dad telling her as a child, “All myths are foundations of reality.” Going explicitly against his final wishes, she leaves everything behind in search of his last-known destination, a mythical island somewhere off the coast of Japan.
Just reaching the island would be extremely treacherous. She befriends Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), captain of a fishing trawler, who just might know the place she is looking for. Facing storms and perilous waters, her mission may be more difficult than expected. Daniel Wu is a gifted actor perfectly cast in this supporting action role. His character boasts, “Some men like dangerous women.” Lara responds, “Some men are foolish.”
No cliffhanger is complete without a devious cold-hearted villain, delivered here by Walton Goggins as Mathias Vogel. Goggins has made a career playing the heavy so effectively. The cast is rounded out with Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi.
A couple of fun facts: Dominic West playing the father of Vikander’s character here also played her character’s father in “Testament of Youth” (2014). And, Emily Carey plays young Lara in this movie and young Diana in “Wonder Woman” (2017).
As an origins movie, the first half sets up the story, but still features enough action to maintain interest. This is no classic, but the second half gives the look and feel of a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981). Vikander pulls in the audience with a balanced performance of action, acting and charm. We’re hopeful the sequel can build on what made this work while filling the numerous plot holes the audience had to overlook.
“Tomb Raider” is 118 minutes and rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and language. Norwegian Director Robert Uthaugh pulls together spectacular set pieces, a proficient international cast and imaginative cliffhanger scenes. This isn’t a great movie by any means but is wonderful popcorn entertainment filled with thrills, suspense and some fun.
By transforming Vikander into an operative avatar for American Ninja Warrior Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, Uthaugh has essentially reinvented the Saturday matinee. Based on prior action movies made from video games, we entered with low expectations. Although far better than prior movies of this genre, it’s still kind of like being the skinniest kid at fat camp.
Ron’s Rating: B
Leigh’s Rating: B