Review: 'Tomb Raider', Alicia Vikander Hits The Mark But Challenges Remain For This Reboot

Does anybody expect Oscar winner Alicia Vikander to be Angelina Jolie? Ever? Then it's probably a good idea to set certain expectations aside for her performance as adventure-seeking video game heroine Lara Croft. While Jolie was outwardly tough, untamed, and looked like she could kick any guy's butt just as easily as she could swing across deadly pitfalls in skin tight shorts, Vikander's physicality is more deceptive. She's younger, leaner, vulnerable, and more savvy, a new Lara Croft to appeal to a new generation of fans. If the question is "Why does there need to be a Tomb Raider reboot?", the answer is Vikander makes Lara Croft cool again after The Cradle of Life nearly ruined her.

To be clear, both Vikander and Jolie were perfect for their era's version of Lara Croft. This update is based partly on the most recent reboot of the bestselling games, and an origin story that takes us back to how Lara began raiding tombs. So we find the Swedish actress as Croft in her aimless days, working as a bike messenger and pizza delivery girl, racing recklessly through London's streets to earn a quick buck. Not that she needs it. Her father Richard (Dominic West) left her an entire fortune but she refuses to use it just as she refuses to accept that he's dead, even though it's been seven years since he vanished while away on a mysterious journey. Lara and Richard shared a love of puzzles and mysteries, and a chance encounter in a boardroom sets her off to solve a riddle her father left behind. It leads her to a discovery of her father's true passion, searching for a mysterious island off the coast of Japan that's said to hold a tomb of supernatural power. If that's where he disappeared, Lara is willing to cross The Devil's Sea to find him and learn what truly happened.

Norwegian director Roar Uthaug won't be familiar to American audiences but he impressed a few years ago with disaster flick, The Wave. As such, it's not surprising that he excels at the geographical dangers Lara faces. It begins with her attempting to cross The Devil's Sea in a rickety old boat captained by Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), the drunken son of her father's former colleague, also missing. The waves rise up from the murky depths like talons ready to rip the boat to shreds, leaving them shipwrecked on the island with no way home. That's where they encounter Walton Goggins as villain Mathias Vogel, a gun-toting corporate middle man in search of the same tomb as Lara's father. He's got an entire slave operation running on the island to find it, but he's just as trapped as they are. Mathias has a great villain name, and he's fairly ruthless with that pistol he's sporting, but Lara's toughest foe are the natural obstacles and traps she encounters. Uthaug clearly has played his share of Tomb Raider video games. Lara endures crashed airplanes, getting spin cycled by raging rivers, and booby traps laid forth by ancient civilizations. I can imagine all of them as Quick Time Events (QTEs) begging for a quick button mash otherwise certain doom. The 3D digital effects take some getting used to compared to the practical effects of the first movie, but Vikander handles herself well. She can cling for dear life like a champ, notch an arrow like Hawkeye, and make desperation slo-mo leaps like a true action star. I doubt Jolie has the same spring in her step nowadays.

One downside to this Tomb Raider and the casting of Vikander is the lack of campy fun Jolie brought to the role. Vikander's incredibly serious throughout and the tone is grim. This is a video game movie, shouldn't it be both exhilarating and kind of silly? They knew how to have fun with the ridiculous plot before but something has been lost in the rebooted take. You'll also be hard pressed to find any big surprises either in the challenges Lara faces or the people she's surrounded by.

For sure, Vikander is going to have to win some people over that she's a believable Lara Croft, a funny thing to say about a 100% fictional character. Hopefully audiences will give her a chance to prove she's every bit as capable as Jolie, at least until Hollywood figures out a way to give us a Lara Croft vs. Lara Croft battle for the Tomb Raider crown. Now there's a puzzle I think would be worth solving.

Rating: 3 out of 5