In a shock twist, the new Lara Croft film is derivative. Intriguingly, whilst the film owes shameless debts to Indiana Jones, Batman and James Bond (etc etc), the Angelina Jolie interpretations are not in this one’s canon of inspiration. Taking its lead from the reboot the video game franchise underwent back in 2013, Tomb Raider offers an earthier – if blander – Lara.
Whether it is a justifiable critique or unfair generalisation, conventional wisdom tells us that films based on video games do not work. Perfectly supporting the theory, 2001’s rubbish Lara Croft: Tomb Raider remains one of the most successful adaptations of the medium to date.
A recent trend in Hollywood has seen the likes of Justin Kurzel and Duncan Jones attempt to prove the rule wrong – with Assassins Creed and Warcraft respectively – but miss the mark. From Swedish Director Roar Uthaug, Tomb Raider’s more serious tone and grittier vibe belie the same intent here. This time, the result is an admirable attempt that very nearly works.
In a typically hokum opening, drawn straight from The Mummy, the voice of Lord Richard Croft (an exceedingly dull Dominic West) yarns the tale of Himiko, the mythical Queen who was said to have power over life and death – so far, so silly. Except, Uthaug then cuts to a boxing ring and some bare knuckle fighting between our new Lara (Alicia Vikander) and an equally buff opponent…who wins.
The message is clear: Vikander’s Lara is – mercifully – a more fallible, grounded and less ludicrous lead than the leather-clad, posh-girl with attitude that characterised the Jolie years. Just in case this wasn’t clear, Lara will later declare: ‘I’m sorry, I’m just not that kind of Croft’.
How far you can sympathise with a woman who chooses to struggle through a hip low-life rather than accept her father’s massive Manor House and vast fortune very much depends on your willingness to accept that her idyllic childhood was not so and the disappearance of her father – Lord Dick – seven years earlier has left her scarred. Needless to say, it’s not long before Lara accepts her ‘destiny’ and is being handed a Japanese puzzle box by a wasted Derek Jacobi as was decreed in her father’s will.
Front and centre, Vikander has always been a welcome screen presence but continues a dubious run of roles here. The problem is not that she cannot do the action, the comedy or the drama, in many ways each of these is an ace in her hand. No, the problem isn’t Vikander, it’s Lara, a character who has literally no distinguishing personality.
Whilst it’s terrific that Lara is no longer defined by her ample bosom and posh accent, there’s precious little else to her. Worse still, as she provides an avatar for the action, it’s hard not to escape the understanding that she’s actually defined here by the creepy relationship she has with her father: ‘daddy loves you’.
Fifteen years ago it was a joy to finally find a female-led blockbuster, even if it was a weak one. Now we have Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and she casts a long and hugely charismatic shadow.
This tomb’s been raided before and has never felt so empty.