Friends is on Netflix, Steps are selling out arenas, and Tomb Raider is back. Lara Croft, that odd 90’s relic of semi-mortification pixelised banter, has been rebooted for a Millenial sensibility, Alicia Vikander slipping on the tanktop Angelina Jolie had two goes at in the early 00’s films. And director Roar Uthaug (The Wave) and screenwriters Alastair Siddons and Geneva Robertson-Dworet play it safe, too safe in the end.
First-time writer Robertson-Dworet is down for future female-driven Marvel projects Captain Marvel and Silver & Black, and she and Siddons construct their Lara revival like a superhero origin story. Dead parents, glimpsed in tinted flashbacks (Dominic West as Papa Croft radiates paternal charm); a secret family heritage; the shirking but ultimate acceptance of destiny and responsibility. There’s a touch of Peter Parker’s urban bumbling to the opening scenes, which establish Lara as a member of the London precariat, a friendly but frustrated Deliveroo-style food courier behind on her gym payments.
She’s still nursing pain over her lost father, who disappeared years ago in Japanese waters, leaving Lara as custodian of the Croft estate and its sizeable holdings. Despite the encouragement of her guardian (Kristen Scott Thomas), Lara has put off signing the papers. Led by a puzzle and a key, Lara discovers a secret basement (a CroftCave?) under the family crypt, her father’s secret life of globe trekking and artefact hunting. Her grief-stricken father was obsessed with the supernatural, his final days spent chasing down a treacherous Japanese island rooted in mythology around an ancient witch laid to rest somewhere. Determined to finally track him down, Lara hires a Hong Kong sailor Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) and jumps into peril.
Jolie’s Lara was a towering action figure of pin-up impossibility, but Vikander’s is petite and personable, vulnerable and wounded, thrust into adventuring by a childhood desperation, and winds up captured by Walton Goggons’ weary enforcer Mathias Vogel, also hunting for this long-lost resting place on behalf of a shady, Hydra-like outfit called Trinity.
Vikander’s Lara is tossed to and fro, and gets properly hurt, making up for her backpacker freshness with stubborn moxey, a kick-boxing repertoire and tremendous forearms. Once the action gets going, there is a certain old-fashioned pleasure to the stunt-based simplicity, compared with the hyper-kinetic aesthetic of much modern action film-making. But it’s also slightly naff. The film has its fair share of puzzles, traps, tricks and clues, maps and notebooks and secret codes to open big, heavy doors, but the biggest puzzle, one the film cannot quite solve, is how to make a modern Tomb Raider film that really moves.
Which is ironic, because the action is physically rooted and verb heavy. Jumping, grabbing, falling, dangling, running, grappling, swinging, running. And, of course, tomb raidin’. But the film’s caution gets the best of it, making the second half feel bitty and familiar. During any given sequence it’s easy to guess what the next move is. Square, circle, up, down, the combos of muscle memory. Conor Smyth
Tomb Raider is on wide release.