Second Opinion: Enjoyable ‘Tomb Raider’ Needs More Tomb Raiding

We get a second opinion to diagnose what the new ‘Tomb Raider’ digs up.

In Tomb Raider, the newest attempt at “well, fellas, maybe this video game adaption will work,” Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander dons the bow and arrow and cargo pants to play Lara Croft, the child of Indiana Jones and Rosie the Riveter, and an expert excavator who seems to escape the rules of gravity as soon as she does her pursuing cardboard-cutout criminals.

Tomb Raider is a modest pleasure; modest because it’s only modestly about tomb raiding, and a pleasure because the third act is basically one gigantic tomb raid. Director Roar Uthaug, in his English-language debut, falls trap for not falling for enough traps – once he finally gets Croft and company careening into the stone secrets of civilizations past, fraught with spooky interiors, macaw MacGuffins and the quaintest little booby traps this side of Raiders of the Lost Ark, his film takes on a life it so desperately needed while it establishes Croft’s persona – carefree-yet-determined, daring, daddy issues – and builds its story – a rescue hunt into uncharted Earth to find Croft senior.

The finale’s got that creepy comfort the first two acts sorely need in a genre where creepiness is currency. As we get to know Laura, we’re glad to make the acquaintance, but one can get a bit antsy for the tomb raiding to begin – which isn’t for a while. It’s not that scripters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons don’t carve out an interesting visage for Croft, who pair an engaging Vikander with a few stylish “this is me” scenes. They just don’t give her iconic character much of a proper movie to shine with until the tomb is raided, and by that time, you’re so enthralled to be getting weird with the decaying skeletons and flying darts that no one really cares who’s doing the tomb raiding. What this film has in enjoyment, it lacks in balance.

The only thing the film loses in its descent is Walton Goggins’ alluring sympathy for his bad guy. Whereas most would’ve chosen to carve off a nice slice of Gary Oldman’s holiday ham to portray the might-as-well-be-nameless villain of the hour, Goggins chooses a path far-more interesting – one of requirement, of frustration and exhaustion, of regret. He’s just a guy trying to get a job done so he can get home to see his family, which makes him all more desperate, and dangerous. Though, once he finally gets where he needs to, the script sizes him down to barks and blows. It’s almost as if Goggins, the pro’s pro of character acting, must sacrifice what’s good about his character for the film to finally get going. Goggins’ awe-induced eyes at what he sees once submerged underground almost makes up for it, but then, every stock line subtracts, something beyond the actor’s control. It’s a mighty fine turn, regardless.

Uthaug doesn’t give himself enough credit for his eye for composition and shot selection – he and cinematographer George Richmond, by design or by mistake, capture a few dazzling wide shots from time to time (one of a sullen, chipped boat yard sticks out for its array of worn colors and wily danger) that make you wonder if this could’ve been a bit more patient with its craft. Uthaug shows enough promise to warrant bigger canvasses, but he’s got to learn to take command with the filmmaking when the script gets too bogged down with explanations and plot points. Perhaps that’ll be a tomb for him to raid on his next adventure.

For now, relax, gamers, this one’s fine. It might not be the movie to make people believe the curse over game adaptations has been lifted, but it’s enough to make you think those aren’t impossible cases to crack. At the very least, you’ll get to raid a tomb before long, and it’s a fun tomb to raid. Here’s to much more tomb raiding in the inevitable sequel.