More like Tomb Later.
At its best, Tomb Raider is a passable action movie. It has some cool fight scenes and a neat tomb to raid. But this iteration of iconic adventurer Lara Croft misses the mark by reducing her identity to her relationship with her missing father and her physical prowess. This movie may directly lift many elements from the excellent 2013 video game reboot, but it disappointingly chooses not to adapt what made Lara an interesting and deep character.
Seven years after Richard Croft’s disappearance, the estranged Lara has abandoned her family fortune and instead chosen to work as a courier who struggles to make ends meet. The first few scenes go to great lengths to prove her athleticism, but fail to develop Lara’s character beyond mild angst as she drifts through life. The fact that she had no prior interest in archeology or desire for adventure makes her a bland heroine next to the video game character, despite Alicia Vikander’s best attempts to bring life to Lara. She only finds something to care about after she discovers her father’s secret archeology hideout. She then uses his research on the uncharted island of Yamatai and its supernatural queen, Himiko, to look for him.
The inherent bond between parent and child may not need to be explained, but when every memory we see of Lara and her father together is limited to painful departures, it’s difficult to buy into what makes their relationship special. His absence is one of two major defining traits of their relationship; the other is that he’s kept a massive part of his life hidden from Lara. The father she thought was always off on business trips was actually risking his life researching supernatural beings while an evil organization, Trinity, tried to exploit his work. Hinging this film on their relationship is weak from the very beginning, and it’s only belittled more when Lara sells the one gift from him she treasured to embark on her adventure.
Tomb Raider does at least bring in the action and death-defying feats from the 2013 game in interesting ways. Iconic moments like Lara escaping a crumbling plane lend themselves well to this film adaptation. Even the way Lara swings across debris and climbs walls with her pickaxe were mirrored successfully. Lara’s expertise in MMA-style fighting balances well with her signature skill with a bow and arrow. Her ferocity and determination in hand-to-hand combat creates believable and exciting fight scenes with the mercenaries she encounters on the island.
But these game homages ultimately can’t compensate for the film’s overall mishandling of Lara. As if her character being underdeveloped wasn’t bad enough, Lara is also subjected to creepy lines from men such as: “I have two daughters like you. Dark hair like you. Pretty like you.”
Most of the men Lara meets either flirt with her or want to kill her — or both! And there are maybe three other women in Tomb Raider that have more than one line. The 2013 Tomb Raider game did a lot to change Lara’s image, but this movie is a massive step back from that as it fails to understand or adapt what worked well for Lara’s character in that game. The game saw her transform from a bright-eyed archaeologist into a kick-ass adventurer. Instead, this Tomb Raider is one irritating trope after another.
One of the main perpetrators of Lara’s mistreatment here is the antagonist and leader of Trinity forces on Yamatai, Mathias. While Walton Goggins’ villain is just as one-dimensional as everyone else in this film, when you pair his awkward performance with unconvincing motives you’re left with one bad, whiny character. He’s only intimidating because of the gun he often wields, but even when he tries to threaten people it comes off more as silly. Even worse, Mathias’ motives for his evil deeds, while understandable, remain unconvincing.
The island and its secrets prove a better, more formidable antagonist for Lara. While there’s only one tomb being raided here, and it doesn’t have anything you wouldn’t have already seen in another adventure movie, it’s still the most fun part of Tomb Raider. That being said, it would have been great to see another small tomb or set of puzzles for Lara to work through on her own to better establish her as an intellectual rather than just an athlete.
Unfortunately, Vikander isn’t given much to work with to make Lara Croft a great character. The one scene where the Academy Award winner shines is a riff on a key scene from the 2013 game, in which Lara is first forced to kill for survival. It’s a quiet, impactful shot where Lara struggles to internalize murdering another person. Tomb Raider doesn’t give her much time to deal with the trauma in the ensuing moments, but Vikander successfully conveys that pain before the next scene tears her away. Tomb Raider simply doesn’t give Vikander enough time to shape Lara as a fully realized character.