Angelina Jolie left her indelible mark on Lara Croft back in the early 2000s, but this video game character constantly regenerates with impunity, whether we want her to or not. She’s resurfaced again, with a whole new look and level of sass, thanks to Oscar-winning star Alicia Vikander, Norwegian film director Roar Uthaug, and writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons and Evan Daugherty. In this origin story, they’ve reimagined Lara as an orphaned enfant terrible, an MMA-fighting, radical bike courier rebelling against her privileged past.
But when she’s forced to confront it, she discovers her long-lost father Richard Croft’s (Dominic West) passion for dangerous treasure hunting, and follows in his footsteps. In this case, it’s to the treacherous island Yamatai, where he’s gone raidin’ the tomb of Himiko, an ancient Japanese queen sorceress. Lara follows suit to Yamatai, where she shows her old man just how to raid a tomb, while battling career raider Vogel (Walton Goggins), employed by a mysterious company to retrieve the dangerous contents of said tomb.
Truthfully, there isn’t very much plot here at all. The film skips over large swaths of exposition, like why Vogel sticks around in this dead-end job for close to a decade, how Papa Croft evaded him, or really anything having to do with why anyone is on this island. Good henchman benefits, probably.
But this movie isn’t about plot or story, and that’s OK for its form, which mimics a video game. This is very much a film about puzzles and tasks, which Lara has to complete to move on to the next level. It’s Lara vs. the bike messengers, Lara vs. the Hong Kong muggers, Lara vs. the tricky trap door floor, Lara vs. the spiky poles.
This is why Uthaug is such an ideal choice of director. His previous film, “The Wave,” was brilliant in its simplicity of depicting a tsunami devastating a small village, focusing on the mechanics of the evacuation and the ticking clock. Here, he again focuses on mechanics, in a way that harkens back to early silent cinema, just like “The Perils of Pauline.” In the perils of Lara Croft, she’d never be tied to a train track, instead dangling from a rusted plane over a waterfall, hands bound. Like another silent star, Buster Keaton, she’s possessing of an incredible physical acumen she applies to getting out of sticky situations.
This also ties into another important evolution of the character. Lara Croft has always been tough and strong, but she was known far more for her sexy, cosmetic assets. This Lara is worth looking at not for her sex appeal but for her strength and skill — for what she can do. Her physicality functions to run, fight and survive, and Vikander is astonishingly ripped in this film.
She’s awe-inspiring even when aided by far too much janky CGI, and that’s the thing — the story is essentially nonexistent and very silly, and a lot of the digital action is very sketchy. But Vikander attacks this role at a headlong pace, with a raspy primal yelp, and she’s so much fun to watch. This fresh, modern and grounded approach to Lara Croft has you in its chokehold before you can resist. Might as well go along for the rest of the ride.