‘Tomb Raider’ adequate, but not all the way there

This photo released by Warner Bros. Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. shows Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) in “Tomb Raider.” (Photo by Ilzek Kitshoff/Warner Bros. Entertainment and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.)

“Tomb Raider”

 

As a teacher, one of the ways you know you’ve been at the job a long time is when you start getting kids in your class whose parents you also taught. I’ve been feeling that way lately writing these reviews, especially when a series reboots.

Of course, “Spider-Man” seems to reboot every 10 minutes or so, but this week’s movie — one I caught on streaming because there was nothing at the theatre I could bring myself to watch, “Tomb Raider” is a genuine new beginning. The original film, starring Angelina Jolie, was released in 2001. In Hollywood terms, that’s like two generations.

I don’t play video games, so I can’t speak to the authenticity of this film as an adaptation, but as an adaptation of an adaptation (“Tomb Raider” the game is a rather blatant gender swapping of “Indiana Jones”) it’s not bad.

Alicia Vikander, best known for the brilliant and creepy “Ex Machina,” takes on the role of globe-trotting adventurer Lara Croft in what it essentially an origin story. When our heroine’s father Richard Croft goes off on a mysterious errand, Lara is left alone, in the care of subordinates. Fast forward seven years, and adult Lara is told that she will inherit her father’s vast wealth if she will only consent to signing paperwork declaring him dead. I don’t know how the law works in England, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the inheritor that gets to declare someone deceased — seems like there could be all kinds of problems associated with that. Anyway, Lara can’t bear to do it so she lives like a poor college student, working as a bike courier and bumming kick-boxing lessons when she has time. All that is about to change, however.

When Lara is given an ancient puzzle box, the clues within lead her to a secret room that changes her whole idea of her businessman father. Turns out he was the original globe-trotting adventurer, and his last jaunt took him to a legendary island off the coast of Japan. The burial site of a terrifying Japanese empress, the tomb is believed to contain an evil that could consume the entire world if released. Richard went there to try and … protect it? Hide it? I’m not sure, but he never came back. He left a video for Lara asking her to destroy all his research so that it wouldn’t fall into the hands of Trinity — a secret evil society that Richard was convinced was also on the trail of the empress’s tomb. Naturally, instead of following instructions, Lara hawks an heirloom and heads east, hoping to hire a boat to take her to the Devil’s Sea where she’ll find the island and hopefully her missing father. Luckily for the audience, if not for her, she finds plenty of trouble as well.

While this film isn’t anywhere near the quality of the “Indiana Jones” films, it’s a perfectly entertaining adventure story that never really falters or falls apart. That said, it doesn’t attempt a whole lot, either. “Tomb Raider” is the definition of playing it safe, but I didn’t mind. There’s good action, but nothing too disturbing, violence-wise.

The acting isn’t going to change anyone’s life, but I did appreciate Vikander’s portrayal. She’s playing the role much more realistically than Jolie did, without all the quips and, more importantly, without all the objectification of the original. One of the problematic aspects of the original “Tomb Raider” is that, despite the potential for creating a positive female role-model in the male-dominated action video game world, Lara Croft was designed as your basic eye-candy — big boobs, tiny waist, and skimpy clothes. Vikander’s Croft is never sexualized and it was really refreshing. Instead, she seems, at least for the first two-thirds of the film, to truly be struggling with the amazing feats of derring-do — similar to the way Harrison Ford does it. Of course, the closer to the end you get the more the film becomes a video game, but I was pleased that it never completely falls apart.

As the villain, Walton Goggins does a good job playing world-weary evil, which is a little different for him. The film also introduces and then basically does nothing with a good sidekick character in Lou Ren, played by Daniel Wu. Again, I don’t know if this character plays a role in the video game, but he’s affable enough that I could see him being a fun addition to a different movie.

Unfortunately, I doubt that will be an option. Though they actually did a pretty decent job with this movie, audiences just weren’t there for it — at least here at home. The movie ended up almost tripling its budget when you factor in the overseas box office, but in this day and age that doesn’t equal a major hit. And in the U.S., it was a bomb. The studio has indicated that they’re not interested in bringing Vikander back in the role, so it feels like this might have been a one-off for the actress, who was definitely the best part of this movie. I wasn’t all that interested in this movie when it was in theatres, and without Vikander, I can’t see that I’d be interested in a sequel at all. It’s too bad, because though this movie is adequate, I feel like there is a really great female-centered adventure story out there, just waiting to be made. Grade: B-

“Tomb Raider” is rated PG-13 for action movie violence and brief language.

Chris Jenness is a art teacher and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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