“Tomb Raider” is fairly generic and overlong, and yet it is — by some margin and by virtue of the sorry state of its genre — the best movie ever to be adapted from a video game.
If that sounds like faint praise, I can assure you, it is.
The rebooted film franchise of the popular video game series picks up nearly 15 years since the last time Lara Croft (previously played by Angelina Jolie) graced the big screen.
Those Jolie movies were bad. All video game movies have been bad ; some have been among the worst movies ever made: “Super Mario Bros.,” “Street Fighter,” “Double Dragon,” “Warcraft.”
But this movie, bless its heart, reaches new heights: It is mediocre approaching all right, sure.
This time out, our ingenious adventurer is played by Alicia Vikander, the young star who has parlayed her recent Oscar win into (what I hope was) a blockbuster payday. Vikander, star of “The Danish Girl” and “Ex Machina,” is the best reason to see this movie — she’s the best reason to see most movies she’s in.
This iteration of “Tomb Raider” is a true origin story, wherein Lara is not yet the pistol-toting archaeologist we’ve come to know over the past two decades (she made her debut in the 1996 PlayStation game). Here, she is a London bike courier, still struggling after the seven-years-past disappearance of her archaeologist father (Dominic West).
As Lara decides to sign the papers that would legalize his death and allow her to inherit his fortune, she discovers a message hidden in a puzzle, which leads her to a clue, which leads her to another clue and another ...
Before long, she’s in Hong Kong, hiring a ship captain named Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to take her to an uninhabited island off the coast of Japan. There, she believes, she’ll find her missing father and the supposedly cursed treasure that doomed him.
On her treasure hunt, Lara stumbles into an evil plot by a shadowy organization named Trinity and a heartless mercenary played by Walton Goggins.
The premise is a whole lotta who cares leading up to a tomb-raiding third act that plays like all four finales of the “Indiana Jones” movies mushed together. And yet “Tomb Raider” has so much going for it that other video game movies (including the previous two “Tomb Raider” entries) did not:
1. The movie is often just as fleet-footed as its heroine. It possesses a carefree tone, a headlong momentum and dialogue that is sometimes clever and rarely ever awful.
2. Though it’s eventually heavily reliant on CG effects, much of the movie’s action involves real-life, flesh-and-blood human beings doing actual stunt work on actual sets. The film’s Norwegian director, Roar Uthaug, made the excellent 2015 disaster movie, “The Wave.” He knows what he’s doing, and he manages to pull off a few decent action sequences along the way, thanks in no small part to his star.
Vikander (who appears to have spent about 10,000 hours at the gym in preparation for this role) runs, leaps and swings around like the sole contestant of a jungle-themed “American Ninja Warrior.” The derring-do not only captures the gameplay of the “Tomb Raider” video game series; it is, quite often, fun to watch, even if you’re not the one holding the PlayStation controller.
3. The movie is well-cast from top to bottom. With actors such as Kristin Scott Thomas and Nick Frost popping up intermittently to keep things from growing stale. With Goggins providing an amusingly sociopathic villain. With Vikander proving ever the clever and capable heroine, whether she’s solving puzzles, shooting her bow and arrow or charging through the jungle to single-handedly dispatch a crew of gun-toting mercenaries.
I don’t mean to oversell this movie. Despite its meager virtues, it never really rises above the baseline “meh” that marks most studio-made action movies.
But given the long, sad history of the video game movie, that “Tomb Raider” is even merely passable is some kind of minor miracle.
(Note: “Wreck-It Ralph” is the best movie about video games, but is not adapted from a particular video game.)
(Note 2: The 2016 video game movie “Assassin’s Creed” — which, weirdly enough, stars Vikander’s husband, Michael Fassbender — is probably the only other video game adaptation that approaches any measure of quality. But it falls short of the new “Tomb Raider” because it is a woefully, irremediably incomprehensible film. But I guess it’s still the second-best video game movie. Maybe? These are stupid things to be thinking and writing about and making you read about. Sorry. Thank you. Goodbye.)