Having not been one for video games, my first introduction to Lara Croft came through the Angelina Jolie films. While I love most adventure films, the original Tomb Raider flicks never clicked with me. Mostly that had to do with Jolie as Lara. My preferred action heroines are the likes of Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, and Katniss, and Jolie’s sexy BAMF just didn’t resonate with me.
Enter Alicia Vikander as the new Lara Croft.
I don’t like pitting heroines against each other, and I won’t do it here except simply to say that where I found nothing relatable in Jolie’s version of Lara, Vikander’s more tomboyish everywoman was a character I felt a connection with. She’s a very Katniss-like heroine, a normal young woman caught up in the extraordinary for the sake of her family.
Tomb Raider essentially serves as a superhero origin story for Vikander’s Lara Croft. When we meet her, she’s a down-on-her-luck bike courier who’s willing to join a madcap race through London just to make a couple hundred dollars. Lara’s chosen this less-than-glamorous life because the alternative–living as an heiress–would mean declaring her father dead. Her life as a normal bike courier gets upset, however, when she learns that her father went missing while trying to find the final resting place of Himiko, a woman who could kill with a single touch. Still unable to accept his death, Lara journeys to the island herself to find out what happened to her father.
Alicia Vikander makes for a perfect Lara. She’s a rather impressive everywoman in the way that Ripley is a rather impressive everywoman in Alien. There’s nothing glamorous about her. She cries when she kills someone, groans in pain during all her action scenes, and gets covered in dirt, blood, and scratches over the course of the film. Certainly, she performs superhuman feats, but she makes you believe that had you been a boxing, bike courier, you might be able to survive a rusted out airplane on a waterfall too. Alicia Vikander absolutely shines through both the action sequences and the more personal, heartfelt moments, and between her performance in this and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., she’s proven she can be a brilliant action star.
As for her antagonist, Walter Goggins gives it his all as the violently unhinged Mathias. He plays a man who’s spent too long on a (mostly) deserted island and is willing to risk ending the world to go home to his daughters. Walter Goggins spends much of his screentime with spacey, wide eyes and a gun in hand. It’s effective and yet it doesn’t make him a particularly dynamic villain in the end. It’s not a total waste, however, because he gets some great villainous moments and his big fight with Lara impresses.
Daniel Wu and Dominic West fare better in their roles. Daniel Wu functions not just as a potential love interest for Lara (there’s light flirting but no romance in this film) but also as a co-hero in his own right. He has a story arc complete with sad father/son backstory and plays a separate role in saving the day. His character Lu Ren is completely likeable in that roguish partner-in-crime sort of way, and I hope, should there be a sequel, he returns to fight Trinity beside Lara. As for Dominic West, he truly shines as Richard. His father/daughter chemistry with Alicia Vikander is perfect, and he manages to turn Richard into a three-dimensional character in spite of being out of the action for a good chunk of the film.
Thanks to the father/child dynamic, in many ways Tomb Raider feels like a remake of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. While the dialogue between Lara and Richard might not be as snappy as Indy and Henry’s, their relationship is just as fraught with miscommunication and baggage. On top of that, the crawl through Himiko’s tomb is filled with as many traps, puzzles, and moral quandaries as Indy’s quest for the Holy Grail. It’s shocking that Tomb Raider doesn’t come out the worse for the comparison, but it’s a genuinely fun and exciting adventure film in its own right.
After my ambivalent feelings toward the original two films, I was shocked to fall in love with new Tomb Raider. It’s successful both as an adventure film and as an introduction to an amazing, new heroine. I don’t often want to see films twice in the theater, but I’d willing go back again. If an adventure film with an awesome female lead and a bit of heart sounds like your cup of tea, definitely check out Tomb Raider too!
What Tomb Raider game would you recommend to a n00b? Who are your favorite action heroines?