Casting is a big part of why a movie will succeed or not. Get the right actor or actress for your leading role, and a lot of the work is done. That being said, you still need to do more work. The reboot of “Tomb Raider” hits on its casting with Alicia Vikander, yet surrounds her with an inferior product. Opting to give Vikander a forgettable and uninspiring origin story does her no favors. The potential is there for this franchise to work, especially with her in the lead, but version two of the “Tomb Raider” series is not off to good start.
Once upon a time, Angelina Jolie had the titular role, portraying the video game heroine in one mediocre film and one terrible one. That stopped the series dead in its tracks. Then, with the game itself being rebooting, another bite at the big screen apple wasn’t far behind. Again, the powers that be cast the central part terrifically, but just were asleep at the wheel when it came to most other aspects. It’s frustrating to witness.
The film explains how Lara Croft (Vikander) came to be the “Tomb Raider” of the title. The daughter of long-missing adventurer Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), Lara lives a thrill-seeking yet low-income life in London. She spends her days as a bike courier, just bumming around. Determined not to sign papers that declare her father dead and take over his huge company, she instead holds out hope that he’s alive. When she discovers some clues about the quest, he was on to explore a mythological tomb, as well as the secret island off the coast of Japan he believes houses the tomb, her first adventure will begin, buoyed by optimism that he’s still alive out there. The first order of business is to find Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), the son of Richard’s ship captain. Like fathers, like sons and daughters.
Once she arrives on the island entirely by accident during a massive storm, Lara discovers herself the captive of Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). Employed by a mysterious corporation, Vogel is looking for the same tomb Richard was. This is Lara’s latest clue that her father is still alive. The two men want what’s inside for very different reasons though. Once Lara initially escapes, she has to use her wits to survive on the island, hoping to find her father, save him from Vogel, and discover just what the man disappeared almost a decade ago in search of.
Alicia Vikander is by far the best part of the flick. She’s the only thing that adequately works here. She’s a spark of life that the film desperately needs. The inquisitive nature, the thrill-seeking, the ability to survive, it all comes across in her performance. The shame is that Vikander is often thrown in with her co-stars, none of whom have any life to them. Prior films like “Ex Machina” and “The Light Between Oceans” showed what chemistry she could have with her co-stars. Hell, she won an Oscar for “The Danish Girl” doing just that. Here, she’s on her own, figuratively, while literally, her character would have been better on her own.
Vikander doesn’t disappoint, but everyone else does. Walton Goggins especially turns in a bland performance that’s completely lifeless. He can be a slimy villain if he wants, but he’s on autopilot here. Dominic West and Daniel Wu leave no trace of their supporting turns, while the borderline cameo by Kristen Scott Thomas is the epitome of an easy paycheck. Also, the cast includes small parts for the likes of Nick Frost and Derek Jacobi, but they are no better.
Director Roar Uthaug has a great name and showed promise with his disaster movie “The Wave,” so it was obvious that Hollywood would come calling. Unfortunately, something is lost in translation. His visual style is massively disappointing, with editing that destroys any action sequence, as well as an inability to focus the camera on what’s interesting. Cinematographer George Richmond doesn’t even find Vikander enough in the set pieces. There’s a decent score from Tom Holkenborg (or Junkie XL, if you prefer), but it’s nothing to get excited about.
What’s so problematic here, besides Uthaug’s directorial choices, is that the story is bland. This is a boilerplate origin story stuff. Scribes Evan Daugherty, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, and Alastair Siddons bring nothing to the table. The most exciting scenes are before Lara becomes the Lara gamers know. It’s another example of screenwriters not being able to translate what works in a video game to the silver screen.
A sequel to “Tomb Raider” that focuses on Lara could work. Vikander is in place. Just find a filmmaker with a visual style, develop a story worth telling, and boom! Franchise in place. The movie we have on hand here is disappointing and forgettable, but the future could be bright. It’ll be a shame if this first outing sinks the whole ship, as Vikander makes a strong Croft. Alas, it just goes to show what happens when you count your franchise chickens before they hatch.