One of the earliest scenes in 2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is a drawn out shower scene devoted entirely to showing as much of Angelina Jolie's skin as a PG-13 movie would allow.
The first time we see Lara Croft in the 2018 reboot, Tomb Raider, she's in the middle of an intense kickboxing match, refusing to tap out and admit defeat.
There are numerous ways in which Tomb Raider is better than its cinematic predecessors, but many of them are built off of that major shift in character focus. Yes, she's attractive (as the vast majority of action stars are), but this Lara Croft is a capable, intelligent action-movie heroine, not an excuse to flaunt boobs and guns. You care about who she is, not just what she looks like.
This change, like the rest of the film's plot, follows the path of the 2013 reboot of the video game series that kicked everything off in the first place and manages to be more than just an origin story. It won't blow your mind with originality, but it provides an enjoyable ride for a couple of hours.
Tomb Raider focuses on a young Lara (Alicia Vikander) struggling to make ends meet seven years after the disappearance of her father (Dominic West). She's not forced into poverty — a massive inheritance (including a manor and control of a successful holding company) is waiting for her, but signing the papers that would grant her the money would also mean admitting her father is dead. Instead, she has chosen to work as a bike courier despite obvious signs that she is capable of achieving much more.
When she finally begins to accept that her father is gone, she learns that he had been keeping a secret: He was desperate to find proof of the supernatural following the death of Lara's mother, hoping it would mean he could see his wife again. This leads him to cross paths with Trinity, an "ancient military group" also seeking the supernatural, albeit for reasons that we presume to be much more nefarious. So he has made one final request of his daughter: Burn his research so Trinity can't use it.
Not one to follow orders, Lara follows the elder Croft's notes to a remote and mysterious island off the coast of Japan, where Trinity is searching for the tomb of Himiko, who supposedly cursed everyone she touched with death. There, Lara and her new companion Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) face off against an army and a series of riddles that stand between them and the truth of this ancient myth.
With a lack of experience and a stacked deck of danger against her, Lara gets beat up as much or more than she beats up others, though most of her scrapes comes from the environment rather than encounters with armed mercenaries. She tumbles over cliffs, falls into rapids and gets stabbed by dilapidated airplane parts in a variety of action sequences, but always manages to pick herself up again (as unlikely as it occasionally seems). Though the film relies heavy on special effects, Vikander is convincing as an action star in these moments.
Much of the adventure, while entertaining, will feel rote to aficionados of this style of action movie. Like the video games and the original movies, Tomb Raider wears its Indiana Jones inspirations on its sleeve, for better or worse. Too many plot points are too convenient, and the villain (Walton Goggins), while ruthless, is a bit bland and never feels like a worthy foil for Lara.
This Tomb Raider is a more grounded film than Jolie's, which is easily for the better. Remember when Lara Croft punched a shark while underwater in 2003's Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life? Even at its most outlandish, this new movie is never anywhere near that ridiculous.
All that said, we've reached an interesting point in history where it's possible to say truthfully "the video game told a better story than the movie." Granted, 2013's Tomb Raider game has a dozen hours to tell its tale (as opposed to 118 minutes), but it can be a more rewarding experience if you have the time.
Tomb Raider lays solid groundwork for a series that can easily eclipse what came before it, provided sequels stay on this path. Lara Croft can be sexy, but she's far more interesting as a woman who refuses to tap out when the going gets tough.
Tomb Raider (B)
PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, and for some language). 118 minutes. In wide release.