Tomb Time

Alicia Vikander breaks free & cuts loose in headline role of action flick 

TR-TRL-097 (72)Tomb Raider
Starring Alicia Vikander, Walter Goggins & Dominic West
Directed by Roar Uthaug
PG-13

Oscar-winning Swedish actress Alicia Vikander breaks free of her art-house, period-drama corset—and films like The Danish Girl, The Light Between Oceans, Tulip Fever and Anna Karenina—to cut loose and headline her first all-out action flick, a franchise reboot built on a foundation of wildly popular videogames and a pair of previous films.

Vikander’s role as archeologist, treasure hunter and “tomb raider” Lara Croft in the new movie follows Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of the character in 2001 and 2003, both of which followed the home-videogame released in 1996.

Now, 15 years after the last film, the new Tomb Raider is obviously meant primarily for new audiences—it’s a start-over origin story of the character, based loosely on the videogame’s own 2013 reboot, about how she came into her particular skillset.

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Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) with young Lara (Maisy De Freitas)

We meet Lara seven years after the disappearance of her wealthy aristocratic father, London’s Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), whose pursuit of “proof that the supernatural is real” took him to the ends of the Earth. Lara refuses to acknowledge that he might be dead, or take over his vast estate—choosing to live off her own meager wages as a spunky bicycle-delivery messenger.

After establishing that Lara’s got some serious chops down at the gym as a kickboxer, and that she can outfox all her biker-boy coworkers in a street race, the movie really gets down to business. She solves a puzzle and discovers clues that start her on her father’s trail, tracking his last known voyage—to an uncharted island in the “Devil’s Sea” off the coast of Japan, where he was searching for the long-lost tomb of a Himiko, a legendary sorceress known as the Death Queen.

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Walter Goggins

Himiko, he believed, had a magical power that he feared would be the downfall of mankind if it fell into the wrong hands…you know how it is in these movies. In this movie, those hands belong to Walter Goggins, who plays Mathias Vogel, the stone-cold psycho prospector who’s spent the past seven years (coincidence?) trying to blast apart the island to find the tomb, and what he thinks is its treasure, with his platoon of beefcake palookas and a slave army of shanghaied fisherman.

Daniel Wu plays Lu Ren, the drunken boat captain Lara hires to bring her to the island; familiar class-act British character actors Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi appear as corporate functionaries wanting to convince Lara to take over her father’s estate; Nick Frost provides some chuckles in his (uncredited) cameo as a pawnbroker.

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Kristin Scott Thomas

But this is Vikander’s movie, all the way. Much has been touted about her physical transformation to play Croft, which required a regime of intensely disciplined weight training, cardio and a high-protein diet that eliminated sugar. She’s more sculpted than ever, that’s for sure. But if you’re a gamer, or if you’re keeping tabs on all the Tomb Raider movies, you’ll probably notice that Vikander’s Lara is cut from a bit of different cloth.

She’s smaller, leaner, scrappier and far less sexualized than the “voluptuous” videogame character—which had a hyperbolic bust and a super-skimpy costume to appeal to mostly male players. And when Angelina Jolie played Lara, she was sultry, cocky and improbably self-assured, practically invincible and all but invulnerable.

Vikander’s Lara is much more grounded, grittier and altogether human. She takes a lot of lumps and thumps, and even gets impaled in the gut by a piece of metal, and the movie makes sure we feel her pain. She’s like a scuffed-up Wonder Woman, a fiercely focused female role model who’s not squeamish about getting down and dirty—and doing what it takes to do the right thing.

DSCF4660.dngAnd, a refreshing note in these troubled times, she does it all without ever firing a gun of any kind. (Firearms, at least according to the movie’s postscript scene, will come later.)

Norwegian director Roar Uthaug (what a name for an action flick!) doesn’t skimp on digital effects, especially one boffo scene in a rusted-out hull of an airplane dangling over a waterfall. It’s mostly standardized, action-movie stuff throughout, however, with stale echoes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the movie that launched a thousand knockoffs, especially when things finally move into the booby-trapped tomb. (Goggins’ villain also has a whiff of crazy Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now.)

The movie does tend to drag a bit at times and bog down with Lara’s daddy issues. But Vikander is the spark plug that always brings it back to life and keeps it moving—running, kicking, punching, picking off villains with a bow and arrow, grappling in mud and muck, leaping into the jungle with a worn-out parachute, plunging into a raging river, and solving ancient puzzles to prevent catastrophes. She takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’. In this island-chase, treasure-hunt, action-pulp cheese, Vikander’s a pretty cool cat.

“She’s not a freakin’ superhero,” Lara says of one of her early kickboxing opponents. Neither is this version of Lara Croft 2018, a tomb raider-to-be who relies on her wits, her wile and what she’s made of herself to slice through a B-movie obstacle course, with a hint of more adventures to come.

In theaters March 16, 2018

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