Tomb Raider trailer

Alicia Vikander kicks ass. No matter what you may think of the new Tomb Raider, it can’t be said that Vikander hasn’t put in the work to play Lara Croft. From the moment she shows up on screen, training in a boxing ring, it’s clear that this is a woman who can handle herself. No, she’s not invincible — later on in the film, she’s almost completely incapacitated by a piece of debris going through her stomach — this is a movie, not a game. It’s not like she can operate in film on hit points and extra lives.

The only pity is that she’s stuck in a movie (directed by Roar Uthaug) that’s about as precarious as some of the traps she has to navigate when she’s finally thrust into a tomb.

This iteration of Lara Croft hews closest to the most recent games. She’s still from a wealthy family, though she’s refused to take her inheritance as an extension of refusing to believe that her father, who disappeared some time ago, is dead, instead working as a bike messenger in order to pay her way. Tomb raiding enters the picture when she discovers a puzzle that he left behind, and follows the clues to an island called Yamatai.

For the most part, the story doesn’t go anywhere unexpected (save for a very brief suggestion of the supernatural). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the movie chugs along just fine, but it does make the exposition and backstory a little more tedious to get through. I’d be perfectly happy to catch up to Lara Croft after she’s come to terms with her past, and is raiding tombs of her own accord. On a more extreme level, I’d be perfectly happy to shed the franchise trappings altogether, and watch Alicia Vikander play an original tomb raider, free from comparisons to Angelina Jolie and from the conception that some kind of childhood trauma is necessary to make a character interesting.

Take Rick O’Connell, from the 1999 The Mummy. He doesn’t really have a sob story, but Brendan Fraser’s charm and talent for swashbuckling make him a compelling hero nonetheless. Vikander doesn’t have the same comic chops (then again, who does), but she’s still got enough charm and enough strength to carry an action-adventure film, particularly with Daniel Wu at her side.

One of the great pleasures of any action movie is seeing how the team of misfit heroes comes together, and though Lara is, by rights, center stage, Wu’s Lu Ren makes a good partner. He’s got charisma in spades (if you need any further proof, check out AMC’s Into the Badlands), which only makes it more disappointing when he essentially disappears halfway through the film. (He’s also notably the only person of color with any real dialogue. Unfortunately, the film’s treatment of non-white characters is overall a little dicey, as Lara’s first overseas excursion starts off with her getting testy that nobody speaks English, and leads swiftly into her getting mugged.) The point being, it’d be fun seeing them raid tombs together and starting them off as friends, rather than having to work through hang-ups that feel shoehorned in. But that, I suppose, will be what we get should this Tomb Raider get cleared for a sequel.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by Dominic West (sporting an impressive collection of wigs) as Lara’s father; Walton Goggins as Mathias Vogel, the de facto villain; and Kristin Scott Thomas as Ana, partner at Croft Holdings and the closest thing Lara has to a guardian. Of the bunch, West fares the best, if only because he’s fully committed to being in an action movie that’s an adaptation of a video game, i.e. he’s hamming it up, and it’s delightful. By contrast, Goggins’ performance feels strangely dialed down. It doesn’t help that his character’s motivations don’t really seem evil; he just wants to get off the island! If I’d been stranded on an island for almost a decade, I’d do anything to get off of it, too.

But for all its flaws, Tomb Raider is still a blockbuster with a young woman at its center, doing everything that’s usually left to male action heroes without once being leered at. Not once does the camera unnecessarily linger on her body, not once is she threatened with sexual assault. If the direction invites us to look at her, it’s only to marvel at her six-pack, or how quickly she can do a pull-up. Again: she kicks ass.

Though I can’t necessarily see myself watching Tomb Raider again, I can’t deny that I enjoyed it, or that I’d shell out to see a second (or third) installment of the series. Vikander’s Croft is quite literally a strong woman, and amazingly enough, her strength doesn’t preclude her being able to cry, or be frightened by the deadly traps she comes across. She also doesn’t need to be “one of the boys,” or otherwise buck femininity in order to be “tough.” This doesn’t fix the fact that she’s the only female character for the bulk of the movie, but if this Tomb Raider takes off, hopefully that will change. God willing (Himiko willing?), it can only get better from here.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10

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About the Author

Karen Han is a writer based in New York, via the midwest. She writes about film, TV, and Tintin, among other things.