Take yourself back to June 2001, when the largest question on the minds of American filmgoers was whether Angelina Jolie had a bust formidable enough to play Lara Croft in film adaptation of the “Tomb Raider” video game. Despite much trepidation, a padded brassiere and the fact that Jolie actually looks like computer generated human being vaulted the film to a strong box office.
Almost 17 years later, the relentless gun violence of the original “Tomb Raider” hasn’t aged well but, with the success of films like “Wonder Woman,” at least there is less controversy about whether a female lead can open an action blockbuster.
As played by Alicia Vikander in the new film, Lara Croft spends her time on up-to-the-moment pursuits like Muay Thai boxing and food delivery via bicycle. She quotes some Shakespeare but hasn’t been to university, which would disappoint her father Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), an archaeologist and adventurer, missing and presumed dead.
Lord Croft vanished whilst chasing his last fascination, Himiko, a 5th century Japanese queen who, according to “the ancient chronicles,” had a god-like power of over life and death. After a fortuitous trip to her father’s gravesite, Lara stumbles upon a secret bunker stuffed with the man’s notes on Himiko. “Tomb Raider” is the kind of movie in which you find a video recording of a man that begins, “If you’re watching this, I must be dead…” Papa Croft instructs Lara to burn the documents about Himiko so no nefarious characters can follow the trail. But you don’t get the colon and “Tomb Raider” after your name by following some dead guy’s orders.
Shortly, Lara lands in Hong Kong seeking safe passage to her father’s final destination, Yamatai, the forbidden island where Himiko is said to be buried.
She has only a photograph of the front of the ship on which her father sailed — happily she immediately finds the same boat. Its captain is Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) and he is reluctant to take Lara to the Devil’s Sea, a shipwreck haven. How is he eventually convinced? Well, Lara really wears a pair of trousers.
The two-person crew is soon wrecked on the shores of Yamatai. When they awaken in captivity they see that, for an uninhabited island, there sure are a lot of people there — mercenaries, slave laborers, and Walton Goggins. He is Mathias Vogel, a project manager for Trinity (your standard shadow company bent on world domination) marooned on the island till he produces the remains of the death goddess. His motivational speeches are wordless, accomplished by cocking a pistol at someone’s head and communications with his crew over a distance are done with sprays of semiautomatic bullets.
The failure in screenwriting from Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons is seen most acutely in the lines given to Goggins’ character — he’s wonderfully evil in the television series “Justified” and “Vice Principals” and terribly defanged here.
Norwegian director Roar Uthaug apparently instructed his cinematographer at every turn: “How can we make this shot murkier?” There are sepia flashbacks of young Lara’s failed attempts to put arrows through apples like William Tell and then action sequences in dark forests in the present day, where Lara is somehow shooting bad guys through the throat like Legolas. Uthaug also loves a shot of Vikander running flat out straight into the camera — over creaky bridges, fallen logs, decrepit airplane wings, anything really.
WHERE TO SEE IT
‘Tomb Raider’ is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated PG-13. Running time 1:58. Visit cinemawest.com.