Hang in there, Lara Croft.
I lost count of how many times Alicia Vikander’s Lara found herself hanging on for dear life in this latest attempt to mine big-screen gold from the long-running and hugely successful video game series.
Hanging from the rusted-out skeleton of an old aircraft perched on the edge of a waterfall. Hanging from the slippery edge of a cliff. Hanging from an ancient and mysterious doorway as the floor beneath her disappears. Hanging on to the side of a ship in the midst of a deadly storm.
And so on.
When Lara isn’t desperately trying not to fall to a certain death, she’s often involved in quick-cut, MMA-style, hand-to-hand combat sequences — or she’s on the run.
Pedaling her bicycle furiously through the streets of London as dozens of cyclists pursue her. Running like an Olympic champ through a boatyard in pursuit of the thugs who stole her knapsack. Racing through the jungle as bullets fly around her. Dashing through seemingly endless catacombs as peril closes in.
There’s no shortage of special effects-laden action in “Tomb Raider,” but the special effects aren’t all that special (at one point the scenery behind Lara practically screams GREEN SCREEN) and many of these sequences feel like time-wasters designed to distract us from the hokey, dopey, paper-thin plot.
This is a one hour, 58-minute movie that feels as if it were filmed from a 40-page screenplay.
Not that this is Vikander’s fault, any more than the unintentionally (for the most part) campy 2001 “Lara Croft Tomb Raider” was Angelina Jolie’s responsibility.
When Jolie starred as Lara Croft, it was just two years after she’d won best supporting actress.
Now Vikander is starring as Lara Croft — two years after her win for best supporting actress.
In both cases, the considerable talent and star power of the lead wasn’t nearly enough to save the day.
Whereas the 2001 edition of “Tomb Raider” had the crazy (albeit ill-conceived) notion of becoming a live-action version of the video game, with Jolie as the brilliant, wealthy, buxom, globe-trotting Lara, this is a relatively grounded and stripped-down origins story.
When we meet the spunky and instantly likable Lara, she’s struggling to make ends meet in east London even though she’s the heir to her father Richard’s multi-billion-dollar fortune. Dad’s been missing for seven years and is presumed dead, but despite constant prodding from Lara’s former legal guardian (Kristin Scott Thomas), Lara doesn’t want to sign the papers giving her control of the family dynasty because that would mean she’s given up all hope of finding her father.
Ah, but just when Lara is finally ready to sign those papers, THAT’S when she find a clue from her father (Dominic West), and that leads to another clue, which leads to one of those scenes where someone pushes “Play” on an old video recording, and someone appears onscreen and says, If you’re seeing this, that means I’m dead …
Has anyone in real life ever made one of those “If you’re seeing this, I must be dead” videos? If so, I wonder why.
Anyway. Lara isn’t entirely convinced her father is dead, so she embarks on a journey to a mysterious island somewhere off the coast of Japan — an island that could hold the long-lost Tomb of Himiko, which (like just about all long-lost tombs in the movies) should stay lost, for if it is unearthed, the fate of the entire world could be at stake!
Something like that.
Daniel Wu is charming, funny and underused as Lu Ren, the booze-soaked captain of a dilapidated vessel who agrees to take Lara to the island because HIS father went missing seven years after agreeing to take Lara’s father to the island.
The fantastic character actor Walton Goggins (far less interesting here than he’s been in such fare as “The Hateful Eight” and on the TV series “Justified”) plays Vogel, the ruthless madman who has been hired by an all-powerful and evil corporation to find the tomb and bring it back to civilization.
Vogel has a whole team of well-armed henchmen, and dozens of slave laborers. We never see how he keeps this small economy going in the midst of an unforgiving jungle. Given they’ve been there for nearly a decade, how much is Vogel paying these henchmen? Where is everybody living? Where are they getting, I don’t know, food and water and clothing?
No matter! It’s time for some “Indiana Jones” knockoff style adventure, with Lara quickly morphing into an unstoppable action hero, capable of surviving multiple beatings and a number of falls from great heights (not to mention a nasty wound to the abdomen), all the while showing remarkable prowess as an archer and MMA-style fighter, and genius-level acumen when it comes to solving complex riddles and deciphering cave paintings.
Vikander is in nearly every scene in the movie, and she’s absolutely terrific. Endearing and funny in the early scenes in London, easy to root for as she dives into the cartoon of an adventure.
Of course “Tomb Raider” sets the table for future adventures, but if the future chapters are to be this silly and disposable, one hopes Vikander moves on as quickly from this film as I did as a viewer.
Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer present a film directed by Roar Uthaug and written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons. Rated PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, and for some language). Running time: 118 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.