Hollywood has never needed a reason for a reboot, so the Tomb Raider videogame relaunch in 2013 was more than enough reason to get Lara Croft back on the big screen. Aiming for a subtler, less-fantastical approach than the Angelina Jolie-starring films, this Tomb Raider serves as a grand improvement from the originals, but still struggles to fully deliver on the thoughtful nuance it aims for.
As an action film, Tomb Raider excels. Its diverse range of action sequences take advantage of the film's various locales, and showcase dazzling stunt work and cinematography. While arming Croft with a bow (in line with her videogame makeover) seems trite in a post-Hunger Games world, it's a better choice than relying too heavily on relentless gunfire, which the film mostly avoids (though fans of Croft's traditional, dual pistol-wielding depiction should stick around until the end). The film's other genre dabbling is far weaker — it struggles to translate the game's puzzle elements to the big screen without feeling clumsy and arbitrary, and its brief experiments in Indiana Jones-esque horror are both derivative and tonally jarring.
Alicia Vikander's Croft trades in Jolie's spandex and heels for much more comfortable-looking (and practical) cargo pants and combat boots, but that's where any character improvements end. There's no delving into the motivations behind Croft's attitude or skills, and any attempts at crafting a nuanced character are undermined by clumsy writing — her hardscrabble exterior is rendered inauthentic by her family's immense wealth, and she is devoid of any street sense, meandering around coastal China with all the grace and poise of a college student on their gap year. Not to mention the plot completely falls apart if the Croft family isn't inexplicably wealthy — for all the time devoted to the goings-on of their eponymous corporation, no one seems to know or care about what it actually does.
Other characters face similarly shallow fates, most disappointing of which is Walton Goggins as the film's villain, Mathias Vogel. With a heart-wrenching backstory and clear motivations, Vogel is set up as the perfect foil for Croft — both are driven by their desires to reunite with their family members (Croft with her missing father, Vogel with his children), but the film opts to resolve their standoff through physical conflict rather than anything remotely thought-provoking.
All of this is to say that Tomb Raider is at its best when delivering mindless action, but don't bother trying to glean any sort of deeper, subversive meaning. Even the film's soundtrack, which starts off with some choice grime tracks — fitting for Croft's urban London beginnings — quickly loses its distinctness once the plot starts up, ending up as typical, orchestral fare.
The team behind this reboot team has good intentions, but any sense of urgency and originality fall to the wayside. It's not the action film with a brain they were aiming for, but it definitely delivers on the thrills. (Warner Bros.)