Review: Tomb Raider

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

PLOT: Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) searches for her long-lost father on an island taken over by a nefarious organization that seeks to unearth a mythological tomb that’s said to have deadly powers.

REVIEW: TOMB RAIDER is one reboot I can get behind. Let’s face it – the Angelina Jolie films, while almost comically dated now, were never good to begin with. In fact, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER was so bad that the sequel, THE CRADLE OF LIFE, was almost itself a reboot, save for Jolie (the one good thing about them) returning to the part. Alas, it was not an improvement (and seemed to end Jan de Bont’s career) and the franchise has been dormant for fifteen years – on the big screen anyways.

This new TOMB RAIDER serves as a more grounded origin film, with Croft, not quite the pistol-packing badass she was in the early games. Here, Croft is an orphan eking out a living as a bike courier, even though she’s the heir to billions, because she can’t bring herself to sign a form that would declare her father, Richard (Dominic West – in a beefed-up part compared to Jon Voight in the original), dead. Convinced her dad is still alive, she charters a boat captained by a drunken sailor (Daniel Wu – impressively sporting bulging biceps despite ostensibly playing a drunk) to take her to her dad’s final destination, a hidden island which is said to be the final resting place for a Japanese demon called Himiko, who is said to have come close to wiping out humanity. There she meets Walton Goggins’s villainous Mathias Vogel, who works for an evil company called Trinity that seeks to rule the globe.

Fast-paced and embedded with a keen sense of fun, this new TOMB RAIDER is far superior to any of the other movies, with director Roar Uthaug (THE WAVE) turning this into a solid INDIANA JONES riff that’s short on the horrible CGI and MATRIX rip-off scenes that marred the original films. Everything is kept more-or-less grounded, with the lithe Croft relying more on her smarts than firepower to save the day. Well, smarts and some killer abs and tremendous upper-body strength. If ever a movie drove home the importance of being able to do proper pull-ups, this is it, with them getting Croft out of one scrape after another.

Vikander makes for a more grounded, working-class heroine than Jolie’s aristocratic version. She’s not as fetishized as she was in the other films and early video games, making it easier to swallow as a straight-up adventure. Vikander plays it with a good sense of humor, something that’s important given how hard it gets to accept the insane amount of should-be deadly wounds she sustains over the course of the film, with her constantly being dropped from high places, impaled, cut, shot (only nicks luckily) and more. Vikander has a twinkle in the eyes that lets you know she’s in the joke.

Which isn’t the say the film is jokey. Walton Goggins, as the baddie, plays it straight, and is a very credible killer – giving a kind of method-like performance that’s creepier than a film like this usually gets. Ditto West as Lara’s dad, who shares a lot of screen time with his on-screen daughter, and cuts a dashing, heroic figure that makes him a more than acceptable mentor for his heroine daughter. Wu gets short-changed a bit as the quasi-comic relief, although perhaps in a nod to his popularity, he gets in on the action a bit (it’s never explained why a boat captain is so good with machine guns – not that it matters). It’s all tied together by another propulsive score by Junkie XL, who’s turning into the real heir to Hans Zimmer, and does well by what’s clearly intended to be a big new franchise.

My only real complaint with TOMB RAIDER is that the action is occasionally shot too dark, a common complaint for action films these days. The dark interior shots of the climax demand perfectly calibrated projection, and even seeing this on IMAX, I felt the action was too tough to decipher as it went on. It’s also worth noting that the best action scenes happen early in the film, such as a well-shot MMA scrap in a gym, a rousing bike chase through London, and a cool parkour-style scene in Hong Kong.

Time will tell if TOMB RAIDER launches a franchise, but clearly the intent is there, with Trinity having the potential to be a S.P.E.C.T.R.E-style threat to Croft as the movies go on. Certainly, it’s a good launching pad for Vikander’s take on the character, and worth seeing even if, like me, you felt burned by the other films.


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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.