Tomb Raider is a surprisingly immersive reboot prequel. PlayStation and Xbox patrons will be pleased to know that Lara Croft à la Angelia Jolie has not simply been re-stickered a few years later: instead, our heroine has been cast in a new light by Alicia Vikander (and her costume department). This petite, olive-skinned Swedish actress does well to play a warrior that doesn’t act like a millionaire heiress, and she has a look about her that would pass for anyone you might see in the streets of London.
Although met with some scepticism, there is actually a lot to be said for Norwegian director Roar Uthaug’s latest addition to the Warner Bros catalogue and, incidentally, his first Hollywood movie. It has all the ingredients you need for a fun cinematic joyride, and is currently topping the international box office. I for one want to know why Lara Croft can’t be an Avenger like her superhero counterparts – she’s relatable, yet completely in a league of her own, and while she may not have superpowers, she makes a fantastic heroine. You might be forgiven for thinking that she looks about 12 when we first see her in the modern day, but she soon makes up for it through her fierce impulsiveness.
Lara lives in denial of her father’s (Dominic West) disappearance: ensconced in the under-culture of London, she is bright and feisty but otherwise lives a quiet life. Behind on her kickboxing payments and riding unbranded (Deliveroo) bikes to scrape together the extra cash, she is one day coerced into signing power of attorney papers by her guardian. Only, conveniently, she decides she doesn’t want to. Several minutes of screen-time and a montage later, she’s jet-setting to Hong Kong, armed with her late father’s secret research and on a mission to find closure about what happened to him at the tomb of Himiko, the ‘mother of death’.
A friendship develops between Lara and the trusty guide she hires (Daniel Wu). Their fathers having being caught up in a storm that caused their disappearance years ago, the pair bond in their endeavours to search for the island where the fated final voyage was headed. This might disappoint Lara Croft: Tomb Raider purists, since it’s a trespass from the territory of the original game, instead taking inspiration from the 2013 version. As a fan of Tomb Raider: Legend for PlayStation 2 back in 2006, I was looking for hints of a similar story. Nevertheless, we get what we came for: she finds a tomb, and raids it. Everything else is a bonus.
True, the plot might be reduced to an Indiana Jones pastiche, but to draw attention to this is missing the point. After all, we’re invited to tag along without debating the minutiae of how we got there. For the most part, it offers a convincing backstory that sets up the rest of the action well. And in an age where we’re so used to consuming alarming volumes of action franchises, what more would we want? It’s female-led, action-packed and features a whole artillery of traditional and automatic weaponry.
It is also a plus nowadays that we can see our screen idols in human form. Lara’s vulnerability, expressed through the pain she feels when hurtling onto the forest floor, elicits instant sympathy. You can’t help but want to tell her to go home and look after herself properly. Vikander’s performance is excellent, probably closer to reality than a lot of high-adrenaline heists would admit to. But she is also fiercely independent: we get glimpses of Gaby from The Man from U.N.C.L.E and shadows of her very different Oscar-nominated role in Ex Machina – this is not a woman who will not mess around.
The different elements of music worked well with the mise-en-scene: gunpoint moments were genuinely climactic, and the tension of the heartbeat-like rhythm and building distortion added emphasis to the sensation of blood rising to the ears. The villains of the story also complemented this interplay: Walton Goggin’s Matthias was a singularly chilling character with just a little of the fatherly element still left in him. He’s a villain with real motivations and bears traces of a once rational man, making him complex and difficult to decode.
Throughout the story, puzzles abound, and part of the fun is trying to work them out before Lara and friends fall to their deaths or are mutilated in the process. It gives us the opportunity to relive the videogame experience on screen without actually playing the game ourselves: perhaps we decide that we would look more courageous if we indulge the fantasy. If this is the case, then high-octane superhero franchises would do well to pay attention to the new Lara, whose proximity to reality means she is a much more accessible (relatable, sell-able) figure.
Look closely, and you’ll find that “Patna Ltd” seems to play an integral part, revealed by the Easter eggs scattered around. A play on ‘patina’, a concept in which the remnants of the past are left tangibly through relics and the decay of old items, it shows a cultural undertone that gives Tomb Raider just that little bit more heritage. The interplay between the past and present is always useful to consider, and it’s fundamental to the Tomb Raider franchise.
Perhaps as should be expected, the ending is sequel fodder – but again, it’s all part of the fun. A younger demographic would no doubt appreciate this enticing lead and hop in line right away. Lara has grown as a person, no longer haunted by the things that stopped her from stepping into her true identity: she is more self-aware, and conscious of the inner workings of the lucrative estate she is mixed up in. It was somewhat surprising that, after all the ordeals she faced, she didn’t develop a hint of PTSD— but that’s the difference between videogames and reality.