Ancient Curses and Big Stunts Make ‘Tomb Raider’ a Good Time

Tomb Raider” aims to deliver classic popcorn entertainment where ancient tombs house plagues, the heroine falls precariously through a savage waterfall, archaeologists become super villains and people get chased through Hong Kong. If it sounds like you’ve seen it before you probably have. But this reboot of the videogame-based franchise is a surprisingly well-executed action movie that feels like a throwback to silly good times like “The Mummy,” “Congo” or “Anaconda.” Key to the movie is Alicia Vikander, who takes on the lead role and shows she does indeed have what it takes to play a convincing, red-blooded action star.

Vikander plays Lara Croft, an independent misfit who enjoys boxing while making ends meet as a delivery person. Croft could inherit great wealth from her family’s company but she is haunted by the memory of her father, explorer Richard Croft (Dominic West), who disappeared in the wilds years ago while searching for the tomb of an ancient Japanese queen, Hikomo. Croft insists Richard must still be alive but no one takes her seriously. Then, when it is time to read Richard’s will, an artifact left specifically for Croft convinces her she must seek the island where he might have disappeared, off the coast of Japan. She enlists the help of a boat owner, Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) and off they go. They will come face to face with a gang of mercenaries led by a maddened explorer named Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), who has his own designs on finding the tomb of Hikomo and harnessing its power for his own, devious ends.

Naturally much emphasis will be placed on how this new “Tomb Raider” reboot fares next to the 2001 “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” starring Angelina Jolie. Director Roar Uthaug isn’t going for a remake here, instead he reimagines the character for a more rugged, less glossy approach. Uthuag directed an interesting Norwegian disaster movie in 2015 titled “The Wave,” where a coastal community is threatened by indeed, a giant wave. It was a simple yet intense movie where nothing looked or felt exaggerated or fake. In “Tomb Raider” he goes for grander, more expensive action but he also doesn’t turn it into a CGI orgy. Instead this feels like a classic adventure B-movie from the 1980s or 1990s. The plot is of course preposterous, but that’s part of the fun. What matters are the exciting set pieces. One memorable scene has Croft trapped in a crashed, decaying airplane about tip over a raging waterfall, in another moment she must cross an uncertain ladder across the abyss of an ancient cave, and of course eventually she has to shoot bad guys with arrows and engage in hand to hand combat. Early in the movie there is a bike race across London shot with fantastic energy. Characters are crushed by sudden, spike-laced traps, bugs crawl out of skulls, and ancient plagues come out of corpses. The point is the movie knows exactly what it is and how to deliver. Fans of the videogame can nit-pick all they want, and snobs can scoff at how the movie lacks depth. But who goes to this sort of movie expecting intellectual transcendence anyway? The question is if the filmmakers made it with any style, humor and craft.

There is little praise you can throw on the screenplay for “Tomb Raider,” except that writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons keep it coherent and have re-invented the heroine into a relatable, engaging character. Gone is the slick coolness of Jolie. Vikander plays the role with more grit. She’s not so much refined here as independent and restless. She didn’t follow in dad’s footsteps and go to college, she’s a hardened, tough personality. Jolie played the role like a fantasy hot scientist, Vikander is more real. This is also a physical movie in the sense that you feel the pain of falling through tree tops, the stress of climbing rock walls and taking a spike through the rib cage. Vikander is almost a throwback to actresses like Grace Jones and Elpidia Carrillo, who played strong female roles dismissive of glitz in films like “Conan the Destroyer” and “Predator.”

At the movies there can be the groundbreaking epics like “Black Panther,” and then you get something like “Tomb Raider,” where the plot is simple, but if done well you just grin and enjoy. The jungle photography is alluring, giant storms lash ships, the bad guys get what’s coming to them, and the movie doesn’t get too long for its own good. Pass the popcorn, please.

Tomb Raider” opens March 16 in theaters nationwide.