Following a 15-year absence from the big screen, and five years after the video game reboots by Edios Interactive and, later, Square Enix, Lara Croft has returned to the big screen in Tomb Raider’s latest iteration. Usually, one would come to expect little from a video game movies, especially after the first stabs at a Tomb Raider adaptation, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life (2003), failed to establish a believable character. However, much like Square’s games, this film avoids expected pitfalls, and Alicia Vikander’s Croft leads a triumphant return for the series.
Croft’s story is familiar in this adaptation of the beloved game series: She ventures to a mysterious island to investigate the whereabouts of her father, who went missing in the Pacific Ocean while searching for a mysterious artifact seven years prior. While not the most novel storyline for a Tomb Raider-based project, the film incorporates the best elements of past installments, combining strong plot points from the first movies with the revamped character development of the recent games. Croft’s father (Dominic West) and a rival archaeologist trying to unleash the artifact, Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), serve as incredible foils to one another when it comes to their respective values. One is willing to forsake the world for his family, and the other, his family for the world. Between the two stands Lara Croft, who must make impossible decisions as the two men are perched like an angel and devil on opposite shoulders.
The new crew behind the camera, veterans of action films like Kingsman (2014) and the recent James Bond series, knew they had to do better than the Angelina Jolie movies at building a believable Lara Croft. Enter Alicia Vikander, an Oscar-winning actress known in action-movie circles for her ability to move from watery-eyed, convincing vulnerability in one moment to calculated composure in the next. This versatility defines Tomb Raider from the first act. Croft seems tough, but her personal strife affects her deeply. As that internal conflict escalates on the island, Vikander shows audiences just how much it threatens to tear Lara in half, and her gripping showdowns with both foes are nothing short of heart pounding.
Everything about the production places the talent, especially Vikander, at the centerfold. Dialogue is shot and cut in classical fashion. Gunshots punctuate the trauma for a young Lara Croft still new to life-and-death decisions. Close-ups linger to show how each situation challenges each character’s resolve. Cinematographer George Richmond, who has worked with close-up maestro Emmanuel Lubezki on Children of Men (2006), strives to put the audience face-to-face with these characters in a way that helps us understand what words can’t explain, and the camera-work capitalizes on the film’s star power with smart framing.
By no means is the new Tomb Raider an award-winner, but the same can be said of Square Enix’s games, and that hasn’t torn down Hitman or Just Cause or even Lara Croft’s own recent spate of new game titles. Despite the little things holding the blockbuster back from the top tier, Tomb Raider is still a smart, standout action film that gives casual moviegoers and series fans alike a nice breath of fresh air.