The Tomb Raider video game franchise saw itself undergo a transformation in 2013. It reinvented itself, becoming a franchise—fairly or unfairly—known for the looks of its protagonist to something that works on a narrative and gameplay level. While it may not be perfect, it’s a heck of a lot better than most of the earlier games. And now it’s been adapted, kind of, into a live-action movie, which hopes to transform the movie franchise the same way the new game turned around its series.
The film follows Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), daughter of the very wealthy Richard (Dominic West) and next in line to the Croft estate, which consists of a mansion and pages upon pages of companies. Richard disappeared seven years ago, and everyone’s given up hope—except Lara. She’s living in relatively poor conditions and working as a bike messenger to avoid signing the papers that would give her access to his wealth, because signing them would officially kill him, in her mind. When she gets a sign that, perhaps, there’s a chance he’s still out there, she enlists ship captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to take her to an uninhabited island said to house the tomb of a cursed Japanese queen.
That already gives us a more personal setup than either of the previous movies. The film functions as an origin story for Croft; she’s definitely not the “tomb raider” of the title at the start. She’s in fantastic shape and is whip-smart, but there wasn’t previously the motivation. The film gives it to her.
After we get to the island, the plot is pretty simple. She meets the film’s villain, Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), who wants to investigate the tomb. And we eventually get to doing that. There are a bunch of action scenes, a couple of emotional moments, relatively few thrills, and a terrible attempt at a twist near the end. But is it any good?
Tomb Raider might, by default, be one of the best video game adaptations we’ve seen.
It’s decent. And that alone makes it several notches better than its predecessors, which are bottom-of-the-barrel actioners. This one is more of a middle-of-the-road actioner. It has some good ideas, it has a solid motive for its protagonist, and the action is prevalent but not terribly special. Its plot is engaging enough, and you’ll want to see it through to the end, but it doesn’t feel as thrilling as you want most of it to be.
A couple of the puzzles are fun, sure, and the action isn’t bad on a technical level—save for two scenes which are lit too darkly to properly see exactly what’s happening—but it lacks the level of sustained suspense one might hope for. You know, where there’s danger around every corner and one wrong move could doom everyone. That’s not here. It’s still somewhat fun, though, and you could do a lot worse when it comes to both action movies in general and video game adaptations specifically. This one has been adapted well from game to film. It certainly feels like the game—at least, what I remember of it; it’s been almost half a decade now—and should please fans.
Alicia Vikander is a solid choice for Lara Croft. We know she can handle the emotional side of the character, but the real question was if she’d be believable as a physical presence. She is. She’s in tremendous shape here and completely works as an action hero. Walton Goggins has this low-key insanity in his performance that’s fascinating. His character may not have started off terrible but, after being on this island for seven years, he’s gotten desperate and maybe a little crazy. It’s great. Those two are the only actors who are really worth watching here, but they’re both on the screen often enough.
Tomb Raider might, by default, be one of the best video game adaptations we’ve seen. That’s due primarily to weak competition, though. It’s easily better than the two other Lara Croft movies, since it’s a competent action movie with a solid enough emotional hook and some decent puzzles. It lacks some thrills, tacks on a dumb twist at the end, and doesn’t develop many of its supporting cast, which is filled with a lot of great actors. Still, it’s mostly a success, and it’s a decent amount of fun.
Conclusion: Tomb Raider is a decent action movie.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of the games—especially the reboot series—or want a decent action movie, Tomb Raider is worth checking out.