“TOMB RAIDER” — 3 stars — Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas; PG-13 (sequences of violence and action, and for some language); in general release
For a movie inspired by a video game, “Tomb Raider” isn’t too bad. And if you can suspend enough disbelief, it’s actually pretty fun.
Roar Uthaug’s film marks the second attempt to bring gun-toting treasure hunter Lara Croft to the big screen, swapping one Academy Award-winning actress for another into the lead role.
But where 2001’s “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” introduced Angelina Jolie’s Lara as a super wealthy, highly trained treasure hunter at the peak of her skills, Alicia Vikander’s Lara is still trying to find her place in the world.
She still comes from a wealthy family, but in the wake of her father’s disappearance seven years earlier, Lara is determined to make it on her own, which somehow has led to a job as a London bike courier and a sputtering career in kickboxing.
But after a high-speed chase gets her into trouble with the police, family friend Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas) finally convinces Lara to come back into the Croft fold. Eventually Lara decides to set out after her long-lost father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), who went missing while trying to chase down the tomb of a mythic Japanese queen named Himiko.
Lara’s quest takes her to Hong Kong, where she is able to persuade a man named Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to set out in search of Himiko’s island, located in a place called the Devil’s Sea. Lu Ren was one of the last people to have contact with Lara’s father, and his reluctance is justified when they crash his boat offshore and wind up in the hands of a rival treasure hunter named Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), who works for a mysterious organization called Trinity and claims to have killed Lara's father.
The heart of the action follows Lara and Mathias as their rival parties search for Himiko’s tomb, which will supposedly unleash a torrent of bad mojo on the world at large. To succeed, Lara will have to realize her destiny as an action hero and consider the moral weight of her quest.
While the CGI-heavy action and stunts push hard against the limits of believability — especially near the film’s end — they are still a lot of fun. An early sequence inside a wrecked airplane on top of a towering waterfall makes for an exciting set piece, and the film’s overall tone feels like a step up from the dated 2001 effort, which often felt like a glorified music video.
Where Jolie’s 2001 performance played up the sexpot fanboy fantasy of the video game character, Vikander’s ripped flyweight gives “Tomb Raider” a kind of Indiana Jones-on-CrossFit vibe. It isn’t quite enough to make her battles against much larger opponents completely convincing, but audiences may be happy she isn’t as sexualized.
Of course, any film of this genre is going to invite comparisons to Harrison Ford’s iconic Indiana Jones, and against the stature of big screen landmarks such as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Tomb Raider” and its fellow aspirants will always pale.
Compared to Steven Spielberg’s "Raiders of the Lost Ark," “Tomb Raider” comes up short on story, character and even believability. As absurd as they may have been, the practical stunts in "Raiders” always had a way of clicking and, too often, “Tomb Raider’s” action feels a little too digital.
It may be more accurate to put “Tomb Raider” in the Brendan Fraser “Mummy” tier of treasure hunting action-adventure. It’s a fun, dismissive adventure that doesn’t try to elevate the genre. And like “The Mummy,” “Tomb Raider” finishes with a strong hint of more installments to come.
“Tomb Raider” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some language; running time: 118 minutes.