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MOVIES: Tomb Raider - Review

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The Tomb Raider video game series is one of the most recognizable and beloved franchises in the history of the gaming industry, selling more than 63 million copies over its 22-year history and spawning numerous spinoffs into other media - including a pair of film adaptation starring Angelina Jolie that grossed a collective $430 million worldwide, despite being savaged by critics. A gritty 2013 reboot reimagined protagonist Lara Croft as a young archaeologist with a survivalist background, revitalizing the series and becoming the bestselling franchise entry to date - which meant it was only a matter of time before Hollywood gave Tomb Raider the reboot treatment as well.

Alicia Vikander stars as Croft, whom we first meet as a London bike courier trying to scrape together enough money to afford her membership at a local kickboxing gym. Despite coming from an immensely wealthy family, Lara is perpetually on the brink of financial ruin, unable to collect her inheritance unless her father, famed archaeologist Richard Croft (Dominic West), is declared legally dead. Richard has been missing for seven years, vanishing without a trace on a clandestine expedition, but Lara clings to hope that he's still alive and dreams of their reunion.

Poring over journals and research documents, Lara pieces together her father's last whereabouts and his intended destination - the island of Yamatai, nestled off the coast of Japan in the heart of the treacherous Devil's Sea. Conscripting a young ship captain named Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) with his own ties to the expedition, Lara sets out to solve the mystery of her father's disappearance, which seems linked to the tomb of a Japanese ruler named Himiko, purported to possess supernatural powers that earned her the nickname "The Queen of Death." But when a storm leaves her shipwrecked on the rocky shores of Yamatai, she discovers the supposedly uninhabited land is crawling with mercenaries led by Mathias (Walton Goggins), who seeks to uncover Himiko's tomb for his own nefarious reasons.

Many of these elements - the island of Yamatai, the tomb of Himiko, the villainous Mathias - will be familiar to audience members that experienced the 2013 video game, and many of that title's most memorable setpieces are also painstakingly recreated here, including Lara traversing the crumbling remains of a crashed plane, perched precariously at the edge of a waterfall. Vikander is also the spitting image of her digital counterpart, from the forest green tank top to the various cuts, bruises and injuries that Lara accumulates during her time on the island, and several iconic props from the game also figure prominently into this big-screen outing.

Director Roar Uthaug has already showcased his aptitude for handling large-scale action with his 2015 offering The Wave, and those same sensibilities are alive and well here. The action of Tomb Raider, which features brutal hand-to-hand combat, tense shootouts and feats of athletic prowess, is consistently solid, and Vikander proves time and again that she's fully capable of shouldering a potential franchise as the film's tenacious and charismatic heroine - it's hard to imagine anyone else more perfect for this role. It's also worth noting that unlike the Jolie films, no effort is made here to sexualize Lara: you won't find the camera lingering on her breasts or backside.

It's the narrative that proves to be Tomb Raider's biggest stumbling block, as efforts to establish a more detailed background for Lara and to introduce a stronger emotional core prove largely unsuccessful. The first 25-30 minutes of the film - which finds Lara biking around the streets of London, reading overly expository entries in her father's journal and running after (and then from) a trio of knapsack thieves near a Hong Kong wharf - are borderline snoozeworthy, and things don't really get interesting until Lara and Lu Ren are battered by a violent squall en route to Yamatai.

The screenplay also struggles to make use of two supporting characters: Lu Ren, who spends the film's latter half waiting for Lara to escape the tomb, despite being armed with an assault rifle that would almost certainly have been beneficial in extricating Lara from her perilous situation; and another inhabitant of Yamatai who I'll not reveal, and whose inclusion not only strains the limits of credulity, but also diminishes Lara's fiercely independent nature by making her strangely reliant on this person and repeatedly imperiling her quest by forcing her to make a series of uncharacteristic choices.

At just under two hours, Tomb Raider feels a bit long in the tooth by the time the credits roll, especially with the bulk of the first act feeling largely inconsequential, and the final ten minutes being devoted to laying the groundwork for an inevitable sequel. But the core elements - Lara using a combination of intelligence and athleticism to solve puzzles, outwit adversaries and navigate thrilling action beats - are superbly entertaining, and this outing may provide the film series with the same jolt of life enjoyed by its video game counterpart.

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