When the World first met Lara Croft in 1996 in the video game Tomb Raider, for PlayStation, she was everything that teen- and tweenage males fantasize about. Gun-toting, adventurous, with body measurements that could in no way fuel her globe-trotting, death-defying, acrobatic feats. But she retained one element as a game character that was clearly missing from her original big-screen debut as portrayed by Angelina Jolie: mortality. From gravity to bullets to male co-stars, Jolie’s Lara Croft remains aloof and unaffected. Both times. Vulnerability? What’s that? As if filmmakers projected that the audience was solely interested in two other “v” words, one of which is “violence” and the other of which was left to the imagination.
By 2013, we saw the video game incarnation of Lara Croft re-envisioned and the story rebooted. Here, she is presented as having limitations, greater vulnerability than merely yielding to gravity. Her appearance has been redesigned to that of an athletic figure, the kind one would expect to find globe-trotting and doing death-defying, acrobatic feats. And in keeping with the reboot, now we have finally seen a Tomb Raider who takes damage and who has an emotional depth — an emotional investment — in the story.
At its roots, the 2018 film is a remake/retelling of the original film (2001) and of the more recent rebooted video game: brave daughter goes in search of her missing father. So there is the likelihood that fans familiar with Tomb Raider will groan in fashion akin to Batman and Spider-man movie-going experiences. That, in my opinion, is the film’s only potential shortcoming: a familiar story. Familiar to gamers, primarily. In a way, it seems fitting that non-gamers should get to enjoy the story that gamers already know rather well. A familiar, engaging story.
Everything after that is the difference between the old Batman tv show…and Batman Begins. This is Lara Croft, the female counterpart to Indiana Jones. Her plans don’t always work perfectly. She takes a punch and feels it. Some part of an ancient myth may yet prove true. And except for the back-of-mind awareness that the film just started, she seems plausibly defeat-able the entire time; at any moment, we just might be rolling credits.
Writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons, and Evan Daugherty weave an intricate story masterfully, and director Roar Uthaug frames every character the way John McTiernan does: if the camera had decided to follow them, they would have been the main character — even the extras have depth in their gaze. Tomb Raider is a well-rounded story, intense, impressive, and not devoid of levity, without being so nonchalant as its same-title predecessors or as purely popcorn as, say, Stephen Sommer’s adventure-comedy The Mummy and its sequels. Academy-Award Winner Alicia Vikander delivers a strong, brave young woman akin to Wonder Woman in her strength and sincerity, and despite the character’s cheesecake origins, suffers no objectification in the story — a welcome relief from Hollywood’s standard take on action stories with female leads! Daniel Wu is instantly like-able and winsome as a reluctant aide in Lara’s quest. And Walter Goggins is less a villain and more a sympathetic antagonist — we struggle to hate him but we know he’s just not right in the head. Lastly, the father-daughter tale opposite Dominic West is heart-felt and genuine.
Bottom line: Tomb Raider is a wonderfully told adventure story that is a suitable father-daughter date night, and this Lara Croft is a solid role-model for young girls.