You have the kind of film job that has yet to be replaced by CGI. You are a human placeholder. It’s not a glamourous role, but an important one. You literally stand in for star Alicia Vikander so the crew can get the technical aspects of the shot down before calling action. You help the crew assure that everything runs as planned, minimizing any real surprises when the cameras start rolling.
Much like a stand-in, Tomb Raider delivers precisely what is expected of it – no more, no less. There is a comfortable predictability to this type of action film that isn’t trying too hard and knows exactly what it is. Tomb Raider isn’t aspiring to be anything other than two hours of fast-paced action with some solid performances from a talented cast. This isn’t the type of film you’d go out of the way to see on the big screen more than once. It’s the type of film you catch while flipping through the channels on a lazy Saturday afternoon and decide to watch it at least until the next commercial break. Which is to say, Tomb Raider is average – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
We often hear critics and audiences griping about “yet another reboot”, and I am usually among them. But then again, why not reboot Tomb Raider? It’s not exactly sacred canon.
That said, what I know about the history of Tomb Raider and Lara Croft can be contained on the head of a pin, which is perhaps why I rather enjoyed that this reboot is an origin story. My faint recollections of the early-Aughts Angelina Jolie-led Tomb Raider films are of some preposterous plot contrivances and over-the top set pieces that, though entertaining, weren’t quite clever enough to be camp. My knowledge of the video game begins and ends with the debate over Lara Croft’s ridiculously rendered breasts. This iteration of Tomb Raider does its best to overcome its past.
Alicia Vikander is absolutely up to the task of playing the neophyte version Lara Croft, a plucky, head-strong young woman determined to bootstrap herself through life as a bike courier rather than sign legal papers giving her the Croft family fortune. Signing would mean that she has given up on her father ever returning home from a failed expedition to a remote island seven years earlier. Instead she sets off to find out what really happened to him. What transpires next is exactly what one would expect. And yet, despite its boilerplate narrative, Tomb Raider delivers real edge-of-your seat tension and fun action sequences, thanks mainly to Vikander.
When the beloved James Bond series decided to reboot as a grittier, darker franchise starring Daniel Craig, it did so by reinventing Bond as a more complex character - one who wasn’t quite so sure of himself, who had to grow into the job, who we saw grapple with his own insecurities. Instead of the slick, over-confident Bonds of films past – films that had become extended product placement vehicles – Craig’s Bond was believable because we weren’t always sure he would get out of every scrape unscathed. Vikander’s Lara Croft is brave, and determined, but inexperienced. Vikander – whether she is being chased on a Hong Kong dock, leaping off a sinking ship, or vanishing over a waterfall - makes Lara’s fear and uncertainty palpable. She delivers the physicality and emotion necessary to make Lara a more interesting character than the fearless and unflappable Lara of the Jolie films. We root for Vikander’s Lara because she seems like she could really use our support. This, however, is where Tomb Raider’s similarity to the recent Bond films end.
Tomb Raider is silly to be sure, but Vikander and its strong cast – Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Kristen Scott-Thomas, and Daniel Wu - take its conceit seriously. Maybe too seriously. There are magic puzzles, elements of the supernatural, and a climax set in a cavernous, rigged tomb that wants to be Raiders of the Lost Ark but feels more like The Goonies. The plot is straightforward and thankfully unencumbered by any attempts at gravitas. Through it all, somehow, Tomb Raider manages to be simultaneously predictable and suspenseful, making it exactly what a B-level action film should be.
Not every film can be Academy Award-worthy, and not every film needs to be. Not every actress can be an Oscar winner like Alicia Vikander, and that’s okay too. Sometimes - whether you’re a stand-in, or a genre flick - doing exactly what is expected is commendable in its own way.