Let’s face it, this movie reboot of the once-popular video game franchise really didn’t have to try too hard to better the first two poorly received spectacles released back in the early noughties.
That it barely raises the bar is really the only puzzle worth solving, though. Big in scale but small in thrill-delivery, Norwegian director Roar Uthaug’s take on the remote-controlled action heroine genre is simply a box-ticking exercise that ultimately does very little with the now stale premise.
Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is a food delivery biker, who expertly navigates the hip streets of East London for minimum wages. Although heir to a fortune and a global business empire, she refuses to sign her beloved father’s death certificate to trigger the inheritance because it would mean admitting Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) will never return from the unexplained quest he embarked on seven years before.
Just as she’s about to succumb to the counsel of family adviser Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), her lawyer (Derek Jacobi) hands over a puzzle box to solve. What’s hidden inside sends her in search of her father’s last known destination, an unchartered island off the coast of Japan where Himiko, the legendary death queen, supposedly lies buried.
After being chased over junks through Hong Kong harbour and then shipwrecked with drunken captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) on the mysterious island, both are captured by vicious mercenary Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), who works for the Order of Trinity.
This sinister organisation rules the fate of mankind and is convinced Himiko’s coffin holds an earth-shattering secret. Vogel’s army has been forcing hordes of immigrant slaves to dig for the sorceress’s tomb. Now, with Lara in his clutches, and together with her father’s maps, notes and diary, it seems Trinity’s lengthy explorations will finally reach a conclusion.
Uthaug’s initially appealing romp opens in an urban-interesting landscape that has a beguiling grittiness about it, but it isn’t long before it tumbles into clichéd exotic surrounds, complete with banal exposition and Lara dodging as many plot holes as darkly lit booby traps.
Uthaug got this job based on his home-grown blockbuster The Wave, which sent a massive tsunami through the Norwegian fjords. Prior to that, his ski-lodge slasher Cold Prey blazed a Scandinavian horror trail. Traits of both his disaster epic and slick scareshow can be easily divined in Tomb Raider. However, on this occasion, his impressive muscular directing style feels stripped down to routine swashbuckling and CGI-swathed derring-do, with any concession to tautness a minor concern.
The most arresting visuals aren’t the churning Devil’s Sea storm or the underground pagoda tomb with its monotonous assortment of spring-loaded dangers. No, it’s the rusting shell of a crashed airplane perched on top of a gigantic waterfall that Lara uses to escape a raging river torrent, and where her uncertain abilities, muddled mindset and dark humour finally come to mean something within the scattershot narrative.
Headliner Alicia Vikander certainly has her work cut out for her. She looks ripped and action-ready in the signature outfits, but throughout the entire movie positions Lara as a hard-to-like, unrepentantly mixed-up character. Nor does Vikander have the iconic status of former Lara, Angelina Jolie, whose eminence at the time somehow transformed the interactive cyber cipher into something above the usual popcornucopia. By comparison, Vikander comes across like a supermodel caught in the headlights, stranded on a crumbling catwalk of gravity-defying stunts and extravagant special effects.
Ever-dependable character actor Goggins, as the bored gun-toting psycho of the piece, gives the best performance in this derivative clutter of dizzying cliffhangers and over-kill chaos, which is essentially a puffed-up throwback to the B-movies of old – and even more of an Indiana Jones clone that the first two films put together.
Higher in concept than in its execution, and saddled with the least surprising twist-ending that points towards a possible sequel, what you see is definitely what you get with this one. Many might just find that more than enough.
Tomb Raider is released in cinemas on Friday 16 March