Matt at the Movies: Tomb Raider shows promise

Everything seems to be getting a reboot these days. 

The latest franchise to get a fresh beginning is Tomb Raider, the action video game series. The series stars a young woman named Lara Croft, a gun-toting female version of Indiana Jones. 

Originally, Lara was envisioned as a voluptuous and sexy femme fatale, the eager fantasy of gaming fanboys. This image was reinforced by the casting of Angelina Jolie in the first version of Tomb Raider on film, two movies whose self-seriousness never quite overcame their camp. Other writers have recently published excellent pieces on the history of Lara Croft and her place in the representation of women in the media. 

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In the latest movie, Alicia Vikander steps into Croft's climbing boots. The movie is itself based on a reboot. In 2013, game developer Crystal Dynamics rebooted Lara in a new series that significantly decreased her breast size and focused on Lara's internal struggle as a person. The new film thankfully follows suit, as it takes the focus off of Lara's body type and focuses on her journey from a shiftless bicycle messenger to world traveler. 

The film opens with Lara taking on an opponent in a kickboxing ring, as if to drive home the point that this will not be a Lara Croft for one to ogle. She is the heiress to the Croft estate, a fortune and a company left behind by her father who disappeared years ago. Reluctant to let go of the past, Lara has yet to accept her inheritance, instead choosing to take odd jobs. Eventually, a clue to her father's disappearance surfaces and Lara commissions a boat to explore his last known location. When she gets there, she finds a secretive organization at work racing to uncover the father's discovery of an ancient Japanese queen. 

The film has the most momentum in the first half, as Lara tries to figure out her place in the world. The actual tomb raiding stuff feels obligatory and forced, painfully derivative of Indiana Jones, National Treasure, or any other treasure-hunting film that's come before. There's nothing particularly new or exciting here except Vikander herself, who proves that she not only has emotional depth but is more than capable of carrying an action film in her own right. She portrays Lara as a tough but flawed person, impulsive and liable to make mistakes. Her unpredictability, rather than whatever lies in the tombs she's exploring, makes the film worth watching. 

This Tomb Raider is nothing to write home about, but it sets up an interesting premise for future films that might just take Lara Croft from a male fantasy sex object to a true feminist icon. We'll see what happens.