TOMB RAIDER * *
Starring Alicia Vikander, Walton Goggins, Dominic West, Daniel Wu and Kristin Scott Thomas. Screenplay by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alistair Siddons. Directed by Roar Uthaug.
Lord almighty I never thought I’d be looking back fondly on the original Tomb Raider movies, a dopey duo of early aughts adventures proving mainly that Hollywood never could quite figure out how to handle Angelina Jolie. Her slyly ridiculous sex appeal should have been a no-brainer for video game vixen Lara Croft, packing two enormous pistols in her trademark cargo shorts, bodaciously bouncing her way through booby-trapped archeological anomalies. If anyone involved had known what they were doing these movies could have been millennial Barbarellas.
Alas, all I can recall from the second film is a somewhat promising opening sequence in which Angelina punches a shark in the nose. Of the first I remember even less, save for cackling at the sight of three pubescent boys walking funny on their way out of the auditorium and wishing I had enjoyed the movie as much as they obviously did. But because we live in an age when every last scrap of intellectual property must be constantly regurgitated and recycled, here’s another Tomb Raider whether you asked for one or not.
Based upon what I am told is a recent “gritty reboot” of the video game, our new Tomb Raider gets rid of the guns and gazongas for a sort of plucky, female empowerment saga in which Alicia Vikander continues Jolie’s tradition of following up your Best Supporting Actress Oscar win by playing a digital avatar famous for having cartoonishly enormous tits. The new film, however, eschews any such male gaze objectification and takes Lara Croft desperately seriously as a sad orphan lass learning the hard way how to raid tombs. Like most “gritty reboots” following the Nolan-ization of genre cinema it vigorously avoids anything vaguely ridiculous or remotely fun and kinda just sits there feeling sorry for itself in the mud.
Lara cries for a while after having to kill one of her many assailants, drowning the dude in a puddle of shallow water and I wondered why we were stopping to mourn in the middle of a fucking video game movie. Joylessly directed by Roar Uthaug, the film settles into that weird late-1990s groove in which action pictures were entirely over-reliant on CGI but still trying to pretend they were doing practical stunts. It’s the worst of both worlds, at once “grounded” and laughably fake. Also it’s really boring.
Tomb Raider is almost entirely devoid of personality. Sure there are some stray sparks like an early, nicely staged bicycle chase through London’s streets or a drunken sidekick played by Hong Kong superstar Daniel Wu. But the former has nothing to do with the actual storyline and the latter has merely been tacked on for Chinese box office purposes, blandly standing off to the side and occasionally facilitating Vikander’s escapes from certain doom.
Shamelessly pilfering the plot of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Lara uses her missing dad’s diary to chase down a fabled treasure he spent his life trying to keep out of the wrong hands. There are even scenes in which selected floor tiles fall away to reveal bottomless chasms, and through the catacombs Vikander runs away from a lot of small falling and rolling rocks, instead of one great big one. (As many other male critics like myself have caught hell for pointing out, the Tomb Raider franchise no longer has any interest in giant boulders.)
I suppose it’s all harmless enough, however uninteresting and uninspired. After an underwhelming climax the movie takes an awful lot of time setting up a sequel, which I suppose is inevitable unless this thing really tanks – in which case we’ll just wait a few years to see a new version starring another Academy Award winner. I do hope Saoirse Ronan has the good sense to stay away from this role.