Jason Bourne has a lot to answer for. He changed the action genre of the ‘90s, all quipping one-liners and tough guys scared of nothing, to emotionally driven characters rather than stereotypes who took life and death as serious matters. The results were mixed. The Dark Knight trilogy – excellent. James Bond – mixed but far too much pouting. So when it comes to Tomb Raider, how do you take this iconic character and update her for the modern age. The modern age not just of revised action heros but new feminism?
The first port of call is to stick closely to the rebooted series of video games where the character had her birth. So gone are the pneumatic, err, assets in favour of a Lara Croft who bleeds, isn’t invincible and who is driven by more than just the promise of fortune and glory. Gone are the days of Angelina Jolie’s slick professional and pout – take note 007 – replaced with a Lara who is fragile, determined and possessing enough daddy issues to have Freud salivating.
After her father (Dominic West) goes missing and presumed dead Lara (Alicia Vikander) refuses to accept he’s gone, refuses her inheritance and does as all rich-kids rebelling against convention do, becomes a hipster bike courier in East London. But when she finds a clue to her father’s location Lara sets out to a distant island surrounded by a legendary curse.
Within minutes of Tomb Raider Miss Croft informs us, “she’s not that kind of Croft”. Three things slightly undermine this, the first being a depressingly cliched soundtrack – the type of songs that spell out who our hero is -, the second a worrying attempt at comic relief – no one needs Nick Frost just for the sake of it – and finally, that Lara has in fact raided a tomb within the first 20 minutes of the film.
Thankfully things rapidly pick-up by the time Lara reaches the mysterious island. Director Roar Uthaug (yes, that’s his actual name), injects a visceral energy to the film that has been a highlight of the recent video games. Of course with that comes a certain amount of familiarity for those who have played the games. Certain set-pieces are almost lifted verbatim leaving little room for originality.
And therein lies the film’s biggest issue, that in essence this is just a live-action video game. Lara goes from one level to the next, getting weapon upgrades and experience points as she does. She solves puzzles, she kills bad guys but there is very little in the way of actual narrative. When video games manage to cram in more story and character to their running time there’s really no excuse for films based on them to still feel so stagnant.
Tomb Raider does have one big ace up its sleeve in the shape of its leading lady. Vikander brings a sense of stubborn, wide-eyed excitement to Lara. Even when the film is simply going through the motions Vikander elevates it to something that at least has you rooting for her.
The best Tomb Raider film to date, but that isn’t saying very much.