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“Tomb Raider” Movie Review by Van Roberts

The long-awaited reboot of “Tomb Raider” (** OUT OF ****) runs out of momentum about an hour into its melodramatic, 111-minute running time.  Basically, this low-tech, pedestrian, prequel to the 2001 original Angelina Jolie blockbuster adheres to the same standard-issue formula that has changed little since movie serials like “Jungle Girl” (1941) and “Perils of Nyoka” (1942).  Unlike the usual arbitrary remake, however, “Tomb Raider” does have some justification for its existence.  The “Tomb Raider” videogame has changed over the years, and the Lara Croft character has embodied some of those changes.  No longer the bubble-breasted, tank-top clad babe of the Jolie years, the new younger Lara is far more sinewy than sexy.  Oscar-winning Swedish actress Alicia Vikander has appropriated the role, and she is the only thing good about this generic franchise update. Everything else pales by comparison. Historically, Jolie’s “Tomb Raider” ushered in a new era in Hollywood’s depiction of action heroines after the supercharged, 1990 French action thriller “Le Femme Nikita” had made gals look sexy with guns in hand.  Unfortunately, the “Tomb Raider” sequel “Lara Croft: The Cradle of Time” (2003) didn’t live up to the potential of its predecessor, and the franchise faded into obscurity.  Meantime, the “Resident Evil” videogame franchise followed in Lara’s footsteps, and fared far more successful.  Eventually, not only did Milla Jovovich starred in the original “Resident Evil,” but she also toplined in the five sequels that ensued from 2002 to 2016.  Lara faces implausible perils galore, but she always finds an easy-out in the most cliffhanger situations.  Unfortunately, the far-fetched, derring-do that Alicia Vikander performs for Norwegian director Roar Uthaug with primitive weapons, either a bow & arrow or rocks strewn nearby represent a strictly back-to-basics austerity. Indeed, our heroine doesn’t acquire her signature pair of pistols until she returns to London to inaugurate her reign as the new Lady Croft.

Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West of “Punisher: War Zone”) has been missing for seven years.  The eminent archaeologist’s daughter, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander of “Ex Machina”), hopes her dad will return.  She remains convinced that Lord Croft still lives.  Lara’s legal guardian Anna Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas of “The English Patient”), who manages Lord Croft’s billion-dollar empire, has urged her repeatedly to write Richard off for dead.  Not only would this bring closure to an impossible predicament, but Lara could also stop living like a pauper with millions within reach of her fingertips!  She earns her living as a bicycle courier in East London. Initially, this fiercely independent attitude makes Lara seem both courageous but sympathetic.  She refuses to take the easy way out, and she prefers to forge her own fortune rather than live off her father’s affluence. This nonconformist streak doesn’t prevent her from coming up second in every fracas.  In a desperate bid to pay off her gym bill, she participates as the fox in a citywide bicycle chase with scores of guys in swift pursuit, behaving as the hounds after her fox.  They’ve attached a paint can to her bike and punctured it.  If nobody can overtake her before that paint runs out, which marks her trail, Lara will walk off a wad of loot. Instead, she collides with a police cruiser and winds up in jail.  Anna has to bail reluctant heiress out.

The first hour offers greater spontaneity than the somnambulant second hour.  Lara legally declares Richard Croft dead.  At this point, she receives a puzzle box that sends her back to the Croft Manor family crypt.  Activating a hidden button in the crypt inscription, she descends into her father’s secret workshop.  She discovers a camcorder with a videotape of him. Eccentric Lord Richard implores his daughter to destroy all his research on a fabulous Asian sorceress, the Queen of Yamatai, known more notoriously as Himiko. Folklore maintains that the evil Himiko possesses is the power over life and death. Rather than obey her father, Lara takes the research with her on a global expedition to reconnect with her father.  Little does she realize the magnitude of her error.  In Hong Kong, she locates the son of the captain who took Lord Croft to a remote Japanese island.  The reluctant son, Lu Ren (Daniel Wu of “Geostorm”), accommodates Lara with a cruise into the tumultuous Devil’s Sea. A catastrophic storm shipwrecks them on a craggy desert island encircled by a treacherous reef.  Eventually, our plucky heroine confronts the primary villain, Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins of “Cowboys & Aliens”), who operates a slave labor camp.  Vogel has been searching for the ancient tomb of Himiko, a Japanese goddess of death.  A wealthy clandestine organization codenamed Trinity employs Vogel.  Once he locates Himiko’s tomb, Trinity wants him to convert its curse into a weapon.  Unlike the Jolie epics, Lara reunites with her father who has been alive but marooned on the island like Robinson Crusoe.  All along Vogel thought Richard was dead.  Recapturing Richard, Vogel coerces Lara at gunpoint to solve all the puzzles and take them to Himiko’s sarcophagus.  This obstacle course that they embark upon to Himiko is rigged with booby-traps galore.  Sadly, Indiana Jones would yawn at the hurdles these people navigate.

“Tomb Raider” struggles to look realistic.  Lara is no match for Vogel’s gun-toting goons who are armed with assault rifles.  She relies on her wits and their weaknesses to survive this ordeal.  Presumably, scenarists Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons borrowed heavily from Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones of the Last Crusade” for inspiration. The single set-piece that dazzles is the careening London bike chase. The final showdown between Lara and her unsavory adversaries after they discover the secret of Himiko’s curse amounts to nothing spectacular.  Walton Goggins specializes in objectionable villains, but he never runs amok.  Dominic West is believable as Lara’s ill-fated father.  Enigmatic Kristin Scott Thomas lingers on the sidelines with a sinister smile.  Ironically, despite the terrific makeover given Lara, “Tomb Raider” fails to breathe new life into this routine search for forbidden treasures.

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