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The Independent Critic

Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, and Nick Frost
Roar Uthaug
Alastair Siddons (Screenplay), Evan Daugherty (Story), Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Story), Toby Gard (Character)
Rated PG-13
118 Mins.
Warner Brothers

 Better Storytelling Needed for "Tomb Raider" Reboot  

I've already decided that my first three children are going to be named Roar. I haven't completely ruled out that Uthaug will be their middle names, though my embrace of Tomb Raider's uniquely named Roar Uthaug doesn't necessarily equate to an equally existing hope that those same children grow up to be modestly successful directors of video game adaptations. 

Despite what some will tell you, Tomb Raider IS modestly successful in its semi-rebooting of the Lara Croft saga most vividly brought to life in Angelina Jolie's 2001 and 2003 cinematic creations that are remembered with far more fondness than they deserve. 

Academy Award-winner Alicia Vikander is a much stronger Lara Croft than Jolie, the actress who has long defined the public's definition of Croft, and it is Vikander's enthusiastic, invested performance as the character who has always possessed less of the swagger than Jolie brought to the role. 

This is not to imply that Tomb Raider entirely succeeds. It doesn't. However, Vikander does make Croft a more interesting central character despite being saddled with a less interesting, tonally bland story by screenwriter Alastair Siddons. Vikander's Croft possesses a rather charming naivete, a retro-vibed adventuress woven into the fabric of Uthaug's surprisingly simplified approach to telling the story. There are times that Uthaug's oft-avoidance of CG overload works wonders for the film, such as an early bike chase through London streets and a rather ingenious segue into a sequence involving a rusted out World War II bomber. However, then there are those scenes that feel like the studio piped up and exclaimed "Today's audiences want CGI!" and demanded the infusion of unconvincing greenscreen sequences, including the film's woefully inadequate closing scenes, that leave Vikander looking like she longs for a bit more human interaction. 

The truth is there aren't a lot of solid video game adaptations out there. It's never a good sign when the name Paul WS Anderson's name is mentioned among the best films of any genre, and while Tomb Raider certainly isn't among the best films even of a consistently week sub-genre of films, it's also far from the worst. Vikander's Croft gets an origin story here, early Croft existing as a bit of a daredevil bicycle courier with unresolved daddy issues as her father, Richard (Dominic West), left her long ago and disappeared off the coast of Japan. With the time having arrived to transfer Richard's business, Croft Holdings, and estate to Lara and her guardian, Ana (Kristin Scott Thomas), the wheels are set in motion for Croft's adventure when the will is read and Lara is presented with her father's final gift to her, a Japanese puzzle box possessing a secret message revealing the remaining artifacts from Richard's lifelong work. It is this discovery that will inspire the adventure that unfolds in Tomb Raider.

When it comes to video game adaptations, I must confess that I present with very little baggage having played very few such games throughout the course of my life and being nearly entirely free of concerns about purity or story or consistency from video game to film throughout the course of adaptation. While I am quite familiar with the skeletal bones of the Croft Saga and did see both of Jolie's cinematic endeavors, the truth is that I entered Tomb Raider with rather modest expectations that were exceeded by Vikander's Nancy Drew meets badass heroine meets Indiana Jones adventures. I had fun, though I will admit that I found myself wishing more than once that Siddons' own script would have had as much fun along with me. 

Tomb Raider isn't quite the franchise restart that it needs to be, its central heroine too often in lacking in compelling heroics but there's still entertainment to be found in watching Vikander, to most Americans regarded as a more classical actress, fully invest herself in such a gritty. decidedly non-classical way. With a little more devotion to creating a script that matches directorial tone and the lead's performance, Tomb Raider may very well become the franchise that Warner Brothers has always wanted it to be.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic