'Tomb Raider' reboot's grittier, blander Lara Croft can't save the franchise

You can take Angelina Jolie out of Tomb Raider, but you can’t make the movie any more exciting — even if you replace her with Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander.

A grittier take than the 2001 Jolie-starring Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, this version of our heroine is based on the Croft shown in the 2013 video game, which itself was a reboot of the original 1996 game franchise.

Croft thankfully isn’t as sexualized as in the 2001 film, with director Roar Uthaug’s take feeling more like Indiana Jones than Catwoman. That’s commendable in an age when female heroes like Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, Daisy Ridley’s Rey from Stars Wars:The Last Jedi, and Letitia Wright’s Princess Shuri in Black Panther lead action-packed blockbusters. And that female empowerment is clearly the aim here — Lara Croft was one of the first woman action heroes in video games (until she was sexualized in later iterations). While characters like Suri and Rey have depth, it is tough to connect with Vikander’s one-dimensional Croft.

Like the personality-devoid video-game version of Croft, Vikander’s take is bland. Like the game, the movie develops her skills and stamina more than her personality, leaving Croft to be a kind of blank slate so viewers can attach their own identity. While that works in games because characters are avatars for players, Uthaug’s apparent use of a similar technique here is tedious.

We meet Croft in the middle of a boxing match, which she loses. She’s poor, has a menial job as a food-delivery cyclist. A fox hunt-inspired bike race through London ultimately lands her in jail, where Croft’s former guardian, Ava (Kristin Scott Thomas) posts bail.

Turns out, Croft is heir to an enormous family fortune following the presumed death of her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), who had been missing for seven years. Croft finds that her dad discovered the tomb of Himiko, a fabled Japanese queen who spread endless death and destruction during her reign.

But an evil order known as Trinity followed his progress, and through a voice recording, Croft’s father asks her to destroy all evidence of the tomb. This being Tomb Raider, though, Croft decides to go find her dad.

A trip to Hong Kong puts her into contact with drunken sailor Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), son of the man who took Croft’s father to where Himiko’s tomb is located. They head to the island, but a shipwreck puts them in the hands of the villainous Mathias Vogel, a Trinity lackey played by a Colonel Kurtz-ian Walton Goggins.

The stakes are upped from Croft finding her father to Croft saving the world, yet there’s no sense of urgency throughout — especially considering the fate of humanity is ostensibly at stake. Instead, it’s a mostly convoluted ride of CGI chase scenes and chasm jumps mixed with interchangeable action scenes and clunky dialogue, much like the 2001 version.

Video-game films, it seems, are doomed to these dull takes and reboots, judging by recent efforts like Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Assassin’s Creed, and Warcraft. It’s almost tradition at this point, going all the way back to the abysmal 1993 movie version of Super Mario Brothers. Comic-book films, on the other hand, have evolved to go beyond blockbusters these days, and have become bona fide watershed moments in American culture, as with Black Panther.

Tomb Raider isn’t going to change the trend.

MOVIES

Tomb Raider

    • Directed by Roar Uthaug. With Alicia Vikander, Walton Goggins, Dominic West, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas. Distributed by Warner Bros.
    • Run time: 1 hour, 58 mins.
    • Parents guide: PG-13 (violence, action, language)
    • Playing at: Area theaters