Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft was a woman of her times, and the films she headlined were very much the same. They reflected Ms. Croft as she was perceived back when she was at the peak of her powers; the tongue was kept firmly in cheek, the dialogue was a little bit camp, and she was unashamedly aristocratic. Forget for a moment that both Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and The Cradle of Life were terrible, terrible movies, they at least reflected the source material they were based upon.
Alicia Vikander's Lara Croft is also very much of her time, and the latest film adaptation of this most famous of gaming brands leaves behind fantasy and instead draws on the grittier aspects of more recent entries in the series. In this new Tomb Raider we meet a young, more vulnerable Lara, still finding her feet as an adventurer, and together we go through the ordeal that shapes this capable young woman into one of the most enduring characters our industry has ever seen.
In some ways they're poles apart, these two cinematic Lara Crofts. Where Jolie was comfortably rich, Vikander's Croft is almost afraid of her wealth. She's reluctant to embrace it, and so we start our journey with her living in an attic in London, earning not quite enough to live while she peddles deliveries around the city. From these humble beginnings, we see this new Lara evolving into something more, becoming the woman that we all know she's destined to be.
Vikander does a good job too, visibly growing into the role as this young Ms. Croft becomes increasingly confident, as she's drawn closer to her true calling. It's an athletic, disciplined performance by a capable actor who does well with the accent, sells the story, and really shines in what is actually a very engaging opening act.
After unearthing a clue as to the disappearance of her father, Lara is drawn into his secretive search for the supernatural. The story shares some of the same DNA as the Crystal Dynamics game from 2013, and there are a few moments where they brush shoulders, but you shouldn't come into this film thinking that they're the same because they're really not. Where Game Lara fought an immortal queen, Film Lara battles mere flesh and blood men, and instead of shotgun battles with heavily-armoured enemies, Vikander instead grips a bow and fires arrows as she stalks through the forest. It's not as action-packed as the game it's loosely based on, but some of the sequences are elegantly constructed and exciting enough to get the blood pumping. Even more so, it's a far cry from Angelina Jolie sliding a motorbike around Croft Manor while she shoots at masked soldiers with unlimited ammo.
We're not going to tell you any more about the story because that would probably spoil it for you, and the film's opening, where the scene is set and the pieces are placed on the board, is the best bit. Dominic West does alright as Daddy Croft, Kristen Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi add their Britishness to the mix, and then we're off to the other side of the world where we meet antagonist Walton Goggins who, in fairness, does a decent job of being villainous. Unfortunately, it's shortly after we meet Goggins's murderous character, Mathias Vogel, that the movie starts to stumble, and it never really finds its feet thereafter.
The grittier, more naturalistic approach that worked so well during the opening hour or so is washed away when Tomb Raider has its real Hollywood moment. It happens when Lara pulls a large piece of shrapnel from her abdomen, the type of wound that would put a marine out of action for a month. This takes place shortly after Croft's sidekick of sorts, here played by Daniel Wu, takes a bullet in the shoulder during a gun battle. The next day both are running, jumping, climbing, shooting, and with their miraculous recovery the seriousness of the film evaporates and we were subsequently hit with a series of increasingly ridiculous moments that blunted our appreciation of the film's climax.
It's very much a movie of two halves, then, and the strong opening is squandered by some unsatisfying tomb raiding towards the end that undoes so much of the good character building and engaging scene-setting. By the time Lara's desperately trying to solve a puzzle while the floor disappears from underneath her feet, you're left hoping that the same happens to you and that the ground opens up if only to spare you from the last half an hour. It was probably best that it didn't because the ending wasn't as terrible as we thought it was going to be. Yet still the damage was done, and director Roar Uthaug was never able to truly capitalise on the more promising aspects of the film that he so deftly established in the first hour or so.
We're not giving up on Alicia Vikander's Lara Croft, though, because as evidenced by the first half of Tomb Raider, there's potential in this cinematic reboot, potential that could yet result in a film worthy of gaming's leading lady. This is not that film, but for a while it almost was, and so there's hope that we might still get it if they ever get around to making the sequel so obviously set up before the credits rolled. We live in hope.