Seventeen years ago, a below-average action flick based on a video game took Hollywood by storm and turned Angelina Jolie into a movie star.
Back then, it didn’t matter how outlandish the plot or unrealistic the characters seemed. “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” was the film pretty much everyone saw and nearly everyone (critics aside) enjoyed.
If you go back and watch the 2001 film now, you’d have to agree that it doesn’t even remotely hold a candle to 2018’s vastly superior reboot simply titled “Tomb Raider.”
Like Jolie, Alicia Vikander comes to the title role off an Academy Award win and yet the 29-year-old Swedish actress brings significantly more to the table.
This reimagining of Lara Croft’s origin tale finds the young treasure hunter on the trail of her father, missing and presumed dead while searching for the burial place of an ancient Asian queen.
Unlike Jolie’s fully-formed and overly-endowed Lara, Vikander starts from the ground up with the character and brings a fresh vibrancy to the almost formulaic concept of a free-spirited woman shirking responsibility and her family fortune.
Her performance is measured and rich in nuance, emoting Lara’s inner monologue with her eyes with a dedication the character you typically don’t find in action movies.
Vikander doesn’t shy away from the intense moments, training over seven months for the role and doing a vast majority of the grueling stunts required.
It’s Vikander’s performance alone that makes “Tomb Raider” unquestionably the greatest film adaptation of a video game and merits the budget, director and script to further explore the complexities of her character in a worthwhile sequel.
Frequent villain Walton Goggins sneers with just the right amount of menace as the movie’s requisite bad guy Mathias Vogel, a character so loosely written one might half expect him to be the primary foe in a Roger Moore-era Bond film.
Dominic West attempts to match Vikander’s gravitas in flashbacks as Lara’s father Lord Richard Croft, He falls short of the mark, though it’s unclear whether the performance or a lackluster screenplay are to blame.
Films based off of video games are almost categorically subpar, as studios bank on name recognition and hardcore gamers spend big money at the box office after dropping $60 or more for their favorite game.
At times, “Tomb Raider” falls prey to these characteristics with a bumbling, uneven script from co-writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons proving to be the film’s biggest, most troubling stumbling block.
And yet somehow, “Tomb Raider” is largely just a whole lot of fun.
Director Roar Uthaug invigorates his film with exciting, “how did they just do that” style action set pieces placing Lara at the brink of death only for her to survive the seemingly impossible.
There’s an array of unique and entertaining sequences from close-up hand-to-hand combat encounters to death-defying feats of heroism to a stunningly engaging bicycle chase early in the film that will draw audiences in.
It’s a pleasure to watch Vikander grow in the role over the course of the film, making Lara a woman stumbling across and finding strength in her brains, willpower and conviction.
Matching this with a hard-headed devotion to finding her father at any cost may seem formulaic or trite, but given the genre, it feels wholeheartedly authentic.
Video games like “Tomb Raider” are usually littered with cinematic, visually stunning mini movies known as “cut scenes” that further the story while the player simply watches.
Uthaug’s film feels like one extended, two-hour “cut scene,” prepping players for adventures yet to come.
With a stirring, impassioned performance from Vikander and daring action sequences, audiences would be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining time at the movies until the highly-anticipated “Avengers: Infinity War” drops next month.