There’s something inherently old-fashioned about the Tomb Raider story. The main character in the ’90s video game was envisioned as a man before the gender was changed for fear of the game feeling too much like an Indiana Jones derivative. Twenty years later, with the release of the third film adapted from the game, this franchise does still feel like an Indiana Jones derivative, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing—your enjoyment of Tomb Raiderwill be informed by how much you like Indiana Jones and films of that ilk.
Tomb Raider (not to be confused with 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie) is, for better or worse, the origin story that Angelina Jolie never got in her on-screen adaptation. While Jolie hit the screen already embroiled in the cutthroat world of international archaeology adventuring, Alicia Vikander’s Lara is a less focused sort. Seven years after the disappearance of her father, Richard (Dominic West), Lara is living paycheck to paycheck in London because she refuses to sign the papers that would declare him legally dead and give her the rights to her inheritance.
It says a lot that, in a film that features ancient Japanese tombs designed like puzzle boxes, Lara’s refusal to claim her inheritance feels like the biggest plot hole. This is a film that is intent on making Lara earn her status as a badass, which apparently means suffering through unnecessary poverty to make a point about how much she loves her father—even if inheriting the money would make the inevitable search Lara goes on to find her father that much faster, easier, and more likely to succeed.
This movie moves briskly from action set-piece to action set-piece. Even before Lara leaves the comforts of her London home, a boxing training sequence and a fast-paced bike race demonstrate just how agile and determined young Lara is. Lara’s trial by fire truly begins when she convinces a Hong Kong ship captain—the charismatic but underdeveloped Lu Ren (Daniel Wu)— to take her to the remote island off of the coast of Japan where her father disappeared.
Once there the action truly kicks in with Lara fighting to survive through a shipwreck, hostage-taking, jungle escape, waterfall, and emergency parachuting—and that’s all before we get to any tombs. The scenes that take place in water are particularly well-executed, which shouldn’t be a surprise given that Norwegian director Roar Uthaug previously helmed 2016 disaster movie The Wave.
While Tomb Raider keeps viewers viscerally engaged with its persistent action, the film could stand to slow down and check in with Lara, who suffers more physical and emotional trauma in one day than most of us do in our entire lifetimes, even suffocating the life out of a man at one point in the proceedings. Instead, much of her vulnerability is negotiated through her relationship with her father, which, while affecting, takes up too much of Lara’s character-driven narrative space.
Vikander is characteristically good, a soulful, scrappy type who grounds the outlandish story and fills in many of the character gaps in this script. Some may find her turn as an action hero unbelievable, but this is a genre that is fueled by impossible feats of strength, agility, and endurance—Vikander’s ability to scale a crumbling cliff face using only pickaxe is just as believable as anything Tom Cruise does in the Mission Impossible franchise. In fact, as a former dancer, Vikander imbues her action performance with a physicality that transcends most action stars, giving Tomb Raider an edge within the genre.
Walton Goggins is on hand as antagonist Mathias Vogel, a member of the shadowy organization known only as Trinity, which finances Vogel’s operation to uncover the tomb of Himiko, the mythical Queen of Yamatai who was said to wield the power of life and death. Goggin’s Vogel is an unsettlingly pragmatic foil to Richard Croft, who he claims to have killed when Lara first arrives. Like Lara, Vogel is a realist more than a dreamer, and the two play off each other well as they delve deeper into the booby-trapped tomb of Himiko.
Perhaps the best thing about Tomb Raider that I can say is that it left me wanting more. Not many films of the entertaining, but ultimately forgettable category leave the viewer hoping for future installments, but the final two scenes of Tomb Raider were particularly strong, hinting at a larger role for actors Nick Frost (Max), Derek Jacobi (Mr. Yaffe), and especially Kristen Scott Thomas (Ana Miller) should the series continue. With a cast like this one and a competent if unambitious action film as its opening installment, Tomb Raider deserves another adventure.