In 2013 the Tomb Raider video game franchise released its tenth major iteration. This was a make or break moment for developer Crystal Dynamics and publisher Square Enix as the series had reached something of a creative nadir. Happily the game – simply titled Tomb Raider – was both financially successful and critically lauded, with the back-to-basics reboot representing a gritty but exciting new direction for the series, one that continues to this day.
The filmmakers behind Tomb Raider have clearly followed a similar design philosophy, using the now familiar ‘Lara covered in mud, looking pensive, standing atop stuff’ aesthetic, rather than the ‘enormous fake boobs, shooting the camera snarly come-hither glances’ that were popularised by the ghastly Angelina Jolie-starring prior attempts, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life (2003).
The good news is that Tomb Raider (2018) is a huge leap in quality above those lost relics from the early noughties. The bad news is it’s still all a bit forgettable.
Tomb Raider takes us back to the early days of Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), who works as a bike courier in London to make ends meet, and is haunted by the memory of her father, Richard (Dominic West) who is missing, believed dead. This early section is well shot and acted but paced strangely and it feels like a minor ice age before Lara’s off overseas, searching for Richard and getting into all sorts of strife along the way. The main bulk of the action takes place on the mysterious island of Yamatai, where obsessed expedition leader Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) is trying to find and dig up the dusty carcass of (possibly) mythical Japanese Queen, Himiko. What follows is a sort of gender flipped, millennial Indiana Jones, except less fun and less stylishly executed, and while it never becomes eye-rollingly awful, it rarely attains a level much higher than mildly interesting.
Alicia Vikander is a likeable, spunky Lara Croft and seems physically adept in the role even if she deserved a bit more to work with. Sadly Walton Goggins and Dominic West, fine actors both, are given very little to do which feels like an egregious missed opportunity. Director Roar Uthaug stages action scenes competently but there’s rarely any edge-of-your-seat excitement at play. Diehard fans of the video game will probably appreciate the callbacks (hey, Lara’s climbing on a rusty old plane at the top of a waterfall, you guys!) and younger audiences will likely not notice the well-worn tropes, but for the rest of us Tomb Raider is relentlessly adequate.