I didn't wake up yesterday morning expecting to go see the new Tomb Raider movie. A call from a friend got me to the theater for what I was expecting to be just another failed attempt to bring a video game to life. The original Angelina Jolie-starring movies were fine for their time and, you know, starred Angelina Jolie, but quickly faded into the background. I expected to complain about a film remake that came three years too late, but as Alicia Vikander was stuck in a downed plane cutting rope with an axe and trying to maze her way out, I realized that I was actually having...fun watching this.
This new Tomb Raider is a straight remake of the 2013 reboot, complete with the Rich White Girl's trip to the island of Yamatai off the coast of Japan and pilfering of ancient ruins that the series has always been known for. Toss in a Batman Begins style origin and her missing father Richard Croft, head of the powerful Croft Industries who spent his free time researching Japanese myths of a queen of death and you've got this movie, already one of the best video game movies ever made by virtue of not being a terrible waste of time. There are four specific things that held my attention enough to almost forgive the fact that all but one of the Asian characters in this movie (boat captain Lu Wen, played by Daniel Wu) is a thief or a slave and that it's too long by about 20 minutes...almost.
Alicia Vikander isn't a new actress by any stretch of the imagination (her turn in Ex_Machina is one for the history books), but Tomb Raider is her first time leading in a huge production like this. Her Lara is drifting through London working as a courier because she doesn't want to sign the papers that would turn her father's massive company over to her but also confirm his death in her mind, instead of Jolie's wizened explorer with a team and infinite resources.
Vikander sells the hell out of the Tom Cruise power jog and generic adventure beats of the screenplay with her action poses and winning charisham, embodying a more relatable (at least to me) version of the character who still has a lot to learn. It's unfortunate that the screenplay doesn't give Vikander a character to go along with her iconic image and the film continues to have the men in her life string her by the nose with clues from scene-to-scene instead of letting her fierce but vaguely defined intellect guide her, but Vikander's poise and commitment is what ties the whole movie together.
Sometimes, it's okay to just appreciate B-movie action as B-movie action, and Tomb Raider has that in spades. Plenty of scenes are pulled straight from the game, including the infamous plane jump and enough MMA action to potentially give you a concussion, and most of Lara's stunts look like practical effect work, which brings the visceral edge you need in an adventure movie like this. The stunt choreography is so good in this movie that a completely pointless fox hunt where Lara is chased by a gang of bikers through the streets of London looks better than just about any of the bike chases in Premium Rush. The action helps alleviate the boredom that comes from the fact that every character is reading from the Big Book of Adventure Movie Tropes. Don't get me started on how boring Vogel is as a villain.
Once the actual tomb raiding begins in the third act, there's one scene that threw me. Lara, her not-so-dead dad, Vogel and his crew are trapped in a room where the floor is falling to pieces and can only be stopped by putting a color key in the door slot. The customary riddle says that only the color of life can open the door and I'm wondering why "green" is the color to choose over anything else like blue (the color of water), white (every color smashed together), or red (the color of love and, therefore, life). Green was a very lucky choice to land on that almost bought everyone some time in the Sarlacc pit.
Once the remains are blown up (The buried queen's body has a virus that turns people into zombies, sorta) and the helicopter comes to get everyone off the island (including Lu Wen, who we never see again after), Lara comes home to officially sign off on the documents that would make her head of the company and lets her aunt Ana, who's been pressuring her to sign the papers for seven year, the head of the business side of things. Ana played her for the position and was actually looking to take over the business of the company so that sinister subsidiary Trinity could operate under Croft Holdings' nose. I should've expected this but it was very well-played and set things up for the next movie that will probably be better than this in just about every way. Square Enix and Warner Bros. are really banking on a new franchise with this, so here's hoping audiences care about this slightly better than average action movie!