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Movie Review: Alicia Vikander Shines in "Tomb Raider"

Reviewed by Paul & Patrick Gibbs

 Out of Four

Images Courtesy Paramount Pictures
and  Mutual Film company
2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was not a good film. We know this. But for a couple of obsessive, young and very single Indiana Jones freaks like us, a tough female version of the adventurous acheologist who came with a sultry British accent and her own set of runaway boulders was irresistable. Angelina Jolie became one of our most significant celebrity crushes of all time, and we saw the flm more times than we care to admit, but we make no apologies or excuses. We all have our guilty pleasures, and we don't judge you for yours, even if it is Gerard Butler (ok, maybe a little.). 

The new reboot  follows Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft, daughter of an eccentric and extremely wealthy adventurer who vanished when she was just a pre-teen. Now a young woman of 21 without any real focus or purpose, Lara navigates the streets of East London, making a living as a bike coiurier in order to pay for her MMA fighting lessons. She refuses to take the reins of her father's global empire because she refuses to accept that he's actually dead. After finding a mysterious clue, she leaves everything she knows behind in search of her dad's last-known destination: a fabled tomb on a mythical island that might be somewhere off the coast of Japan. When she finds herself shipwecked on the island, the stakes get much higher than she ever expected, and Lara must brave her way through dangerous terrain, dodging villainous attacks, and making the most of what makes for a decent premise but a rather messy plot. 

"Run (trough the) forest, run!"
Images Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM
Tomb Raider succeeds primarly due to its luminous star,who really makes the role her own, wisely opting not try to match Jolie's sensuality, instead playing Lara as plucky, spirited and at times just plain adorable and quite capable of using it to her advantage. She does ably capture Jolie's swagger, however, and it's just an all around star making performance - not the firt she has given us, but perhaps the most important one for her career since Ex Machina.

This  isn't an overtly feminist film, and it's really not deep enough to have any subtext. But if there is anything empowering about this movie is that Lara Croft's female action hero status is treated very matter of factly. There's not a lot of questioning what a "pretty girl like" her is doing fighting bad guys, and she never feels defined by her looks or fashion choices the way Jolie's Lara was. Alicia Vikander is undeniably attractive, but so was the young Harrison Ford. She's allowed to just be a good-looking tough action hero more like he was, rather than going through 12 different hot and glamorous outfits so they can be sure they can sell a calendar.

Images Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM
What's more, in an age when practically every action hero can fly or at least practically leap tall buildings, there's something refreshingly exciting about one who's a little more grounded in at least the Indiana Jones equivalent of traditional physics, and in actual real-world looking exotic locations. However, there a few too many many times when gravity takes her tumbling through overly obvious CG effects, and that does take away from it. Director Roar Uthaug handles the action with a lot of finesse, giving us a nice sense of how John Rambo might fair on Survivor if he was a 20 something woman (a question we have all pondered.).

The film definitley rests on Vikander's small but strong shoulders, but the cast is strong overall, with Hong Kong actor Daniel Wu making the most of a very underwritten role as her sidekick. And ace character actor Walton Goggins was a fun choice for a villain rather ran going for a standard sneering Englishman, and the choice to make him something of a blue collar villain who's at the mercy of his rich superiors and just wants to get the job done so he can go home is a good one. But it's too bad they couldn't have gone just a little deeper into the character instead of just scratching the surface. But while Dominic West's Richard Croft is a little hammy, the cast works well off of each other and Uthaug leads them capably, though Kristin Scott Thomas was underused, to say nothing of the great Shakespearean actor Derek Jackobi in what amounts to a pointless cameo.

One weakness the Tomb Raider films really need to deal with if they are ever going to truly soar is to find a truly memorable MacGuffin (which is really ironic, because if there's on thing this franchise is really known for it's a total preoccupation with the right set og MacGuffins.) That is probably our biggest compaint here.

To summarize, this version of  Tomb Raider  is a solidly fun popcorn movie, especially if the globe trotting adventurer genre appeals to you (and we freely admit that we are suckers for it, and will be accused of going easy on this film.). To call it the best movie based on a video game is a bit like saying "this is my favorite kidney stone", but it still stands. bit like still a guilty pleasure, but it's not Paul Manafort guilty, it's closer to when director John McTiernan was arrested for tapping his own phones. But at least Patrick is going to be watching Angelina's bungee ballet fight again as soon as possible, and he will not feel guilty about it.

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