Talking about bringing a human dimension to a movie based on a videogame might sound like a fool’s errand, but those qualities – courtesy of star Alicia Vikander – are the most memorable aspect of “Tomb Raider,” an attempt to revive the franchise that Angelina Jolie previously headlined by introducing Lara Croft on what amounts to her first, er, raid.
In going back to the character’s origins, the film makes Croft a bit more flesh and blood, and thus more heroic; on the down side, the finishing kick is muddled, and at times “Tomb Raider” feels like the small-boned test pattern for a more ambitious sequel to follow, assuming the international box-office haul merits one.
Croft is just scraping by when the movie begins, because her father (Simon West) went missing years before. Pressed to sign papers acknowledging his death that will also pave the way to accessing his fortune, she unearths a clue regarding his last known whereabouts, leading her first to Hong Kong, then an island where a potentially supernatural threat lurks.
Lara finds a reluctant companion in Lu Ren (“Into the Badlands” star Daniel Wu), who she meets in Hong Kong. But most of the action – and certainly every snippet you’re apt to see in the trailers – takes place on the island, where Lara’s resources are put to the test by a heavily armed group led by Vogel (Walton Goggins), who’s seeking the very treasure that Lara’s dad was after when he disappeared.
The premise, of course, is mostly an excuse to put Croft through a series of action sequences, including a particularly harrowing one in which she must survive a raging river and waterfall. There’s also a fair amount of violence, although as Lara is relatively new to this perilous line of work, there’s very little that’s casual about the carnage.
To the extent that it works, thank Vikander, who actually manages to convey vulnerability between the acts of derring-do and sprinting past obstacles. The fact that there’s actually been some debate among fanboys about whether the Oscar-winning actress fulfills the cartoonish contours of the character is merely a reminder that some folks really do belong in darkened rooms engaged in solitary pursuits.
Under the stewardship of Norwegian director Roar Uthaug, this “Tomb Raider” feels like a competently executed means of bringing back a franchise that last hit theaters 15 years ago.
Whether the movie conjures the excitement or thrills associated with the model of a modern major blockbuster is another matter. Because while Lara rather appropriately exhibits her handy skill with a bow and arrow, “Tomb Raider” doesn’t quite qualify as a bull’s-eye, but thanks to its star, nor does it completely miss the target.
“Tomb Raider” opens March 16 in the U.S. It’s rated PG-13. The movie is being released by Warner Bros., like CNN, a unit of Time Warner.