As a standalone movie, Tomb Raider serves as the origin story for a reboot of the video game adventuress Lara Croft, who swings her way through ancient ruins across the globe. It’s also a return to the Republic Pictures serial domain of the 1940s jungle girl Nyoka, raised by a scientist father who was more at home in a savage land than amongst high society.
Based on the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Nyoka was shown in two separate serials leaping from rocky slags onto horseback-riding villains, plunging over 80-foot cliffs into a raging waterfall and washing ashore only to climb an escarpment dividing jungle overgrowth from barren desert while pursuing some whatzit. And in the case of The Perils of Nyoka that meant obtaining the tablets of Hippocrates, which contained a cure for cancer! Yeah, it’s similar to the perils of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, where the heroine meets life directly underneath collapsing stalactite caves or perched atop the stairs leading to an ancient burial ground.
Croft was created to be the main protagonist of the Square Enix video game franchise, aka “Tomb Raider,” and she was inspired by singer Nenah Cherry and the British comic book character Tank Girl. This 2018 version stars Alicia Vikander as the independent but spunky, anti-authoritarian daughter of a missing adventurer who pushes herself to learn his whereabouts, and in so doing comes across closer to the original concept than the pouty, reconstructed physique brought to the screen 15 years ago by Angelina Jolie.
Vikander’s Croft is energetic, gullibly risk-taking and as believable submitting to defeat during an ultimate fighter match as she is scaling the rusty remnants of a propeller-driven plane – hardly a superhero, more of a low-wage slave bike courier engaged in a foxhunt pursuit for extra cash.
A rebel through and through, it comes as no shock that as an adult Croft refuses to sign all the proper dotted lines to declare her father deceased in order to claim her inheritance after his seven-year absence, but instead doubles down on her resolve to retrace dear ol’ dad’s footsteps through the numerous islands off the coast of Japan, through the Devil’s Sea where Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) was last heard from, convinced he’d located the tomb of Death Queen Himiko before his Trinity rivals could lay claim to an ancient supernatural curse.
And to do so, as in every serial of yore, Lara needs a sidekick like Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), whose dilapidated schooner gets her to her destination as he provides backup.
Tomb Raider is pure Saturday matinee cliffhanger thrills, and Norwegian director Roar Uthang should be commended for making the concept as viable in 2018 as it was to George Lucas in the early ’80s for his Indiana Jones stories.
Faced with fulfilling her dad’s wishes by seeing that the tomb isn’t opened, Croft relies on her problem-solving wits and a crudely fashioned bow & arrow, which makes the film feel older than the full-throttle gymnastics of the Jolie era.
And in essence, that’s precisely why Tomb Raider turns out to be the best imagined entry in the series. Vikander isn’t injected into some preconceived action star persona, but is permitted to be hesitant, injury-prone and doubtful of herself, much in the same way Daniel Craig (who was also in that first Lara Croft film) had to grow into Bond via Casino Royale back in 2006, not as confident, stripped down to basics.
Whereas Bond’s roots were literary, Croft’s origins are threefold: chapter serials, comic books and video gaming, which should add dimensions to the character.
I’m not one to complain that any movie is “too long.” A movie should be as long as is necessary to tell its story. The key is to excise a story of waste and fat. Tomb Raider is that rare effort that’s precisely everything it needs to be: a background to establish its character, a surprise, a twist, a conflict and a resolution that serves as a springboard to leave the character fully developed.
“Sorry, I’m just not that kind of Croft,” responds Lara at one point. And that’s about as accurate an assessment of Tomb Raider as there could be.