For those of you who only know of Tomb Raider through the early-2000s films – in which a pneumatic Angelina Jolie dispatched baddies with a glare, a pout, and a pair of Heckler & Koch – you’re about to meet a very different Lara Croft.
The film is an origin story, based on the rebooted Square Enix franchise, rather than the charmingly blocky Eidos originals, and stars another more recent Oscar winner, Alicia Vikander, in the titular role.
Though literally to-the-manor-born, she’s trying her best not to be a Croft; working as a delivery cyclist in Brixton and with a particular interest in MMA. When the discovery of a puzzle box amidst the possessions of her long-missing father, Richard (Dominic West), leads her to discover his hidden life, she heeds the call to adventure and sets out to solve the mystery of his disappearance. Her search takes her to a stormy island off the coast of Japan and the tomb of an ancient Japanese death queen.
Instead of mystical absurdity, the film manages an entertainingly gritty realism – well, as far as you can when dealing with colour-coded puzzle-deathtraps. Laura herself is a vulnerable, capable, bow-&-arrow-wielding bad-ass, a born survivor whose journey is equal parts Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Revenant; albeit with better climate.
Director Roar Uthaug has a clear eye for adventure, keeping the action moving dynamically with a video-game chase logic that proves surprisingly satisfying. There’s also a lot of slow-mo leaping, occasionally involving an ice pick. George Richmond’s cinematography is crisp and vibrant; even during a sequence that involves a stormy shipwreck at night.
Most impressively, Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons’ script manages to imbue the prospect of death with actual weight by giving it a moment to breathe – or, you know, not breathe. Even Laura’s companion, a drunken Chinese boat captain, Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), is treated with respect rather than just as comic relief. For that we have a couple of neat, self-contained scenes with Nick Frost as an irascible pawnbroker.
One of the film’s few notable flaws is the underdeveloped villain, which is a waste given the casting of Walton Goggins – the man can do understated menace in his sleep – as well as Junkie XL’s slightly one-note score. You can even forgive the almost adorably clumsy set-up for a sequel.
This is a new, or at least retooled, franchise boldly striding out to take its place in the world. I, for one, could do with another outing. And in this brave new world of gods and monster flops, it deserves all the help it can get.