Directed by: Roar Uthaug
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Daniel Wu, Walton Goggins, Dominic West
Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some language
The video game world has an updated “Tomb Raider” featuring a more realistic-looking version of Lara Croft, and now the movie world has one as well. There are a couple of unusual awesome things about this movie, but the rest is straight formula: missing father, hidden tomb full of traps and puzzles, and so on. It pays tribute to its forerunners while confidently ditching a lot of the sexist tropes that weigh down previous versions and other films in the genre.
“Tomb Raider” gives us the origin story for the titular character, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), and is clearly set up to have sequels. We get taken through the paces of Lara’s life before she becomes an international adventurer: she’s a very competitive bike courier and spends a lot of time in a boxing-style gym practicing some form of mixed martial arts. Both make her build (she is pretty ripped) and her abilities (climbing, jumping, taking down men trying to kill her) a bit more realistic than previous iterations of the character.
Meanwhile, her father (Dominic West) has been missing for seven years. Lara is being heavily pressured by her guardian Ana (Kristin Scott Thomas) to sign the papers declaring him dead and taking over his company and massive fortune. His will includes a puzzle box for her, and of course it has a mysterious message leading her to her father’s secret lair of anthropology. She discovers his secret project and the trip he was on when he disappeared all those years ago. Naturally she sets off after him, hoping to find out what happened. Some basic elements of the story and place names are based loosely on the 2013 video game reboot of the franchise.
One of the biggest qualities the film has is an absence: Lara isn’t sexualized. Overt misogyny is out, as well. When she enters a competition against her fellow bike couriers, there’s no flirting or talking big about how she’s a weak little lady. Nobody even tells her that she should stay home because she’s a girl when she gets ready to go after her father. When she’s being attacked by the villain’s henchmen, there’s no threat of rape, no bad guys eyeing her lustfully. Lara is a very determined young person who happens to be a woman. It’s refreshing, especially in a franchise best known for its heroine’s enormous breasts.
“Tomb Raider” doesn’t break much new ground otherwise. There are traps set off by loose tiles, a vanishing floor, spikes, and other standard adventurer-anthropologist material (the film’s version of Indiana Jones’ big boulder to outrun is pretty creative, though). Our villain is another Walton-Goggins-as-a-creep type, and he has both henchmen and a bunch of slaves. He’s looking for a mythical tomb Lara’s father was researching when he vanished.
This is a competent “Indiana Jones” sort of movie. If you like that genre, “Tomb Raider” is probably a solid bet. Even if you don’t like the genre much, if you’re into supporting movies that treat female leads like people, it’s worth going to see it. More tickets sold equals more interest in future projects like this one, where our female lead is strong and kicks butt and isn’t subjected to much of the usual nonsense female characters deal with in most big-budget movies.