Tomb Raider; 120 min; Rated PG-13
It’s evident going in that “Tomb Raider” will be a B-movie, aka pulp cinema. As well, it’s a 2018 remake of the 2001 “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (starring Angelina Jolie) and, for good measure, that film was based on a video game, not a comic book. Now that gives the current incarnation some solid bona fides. Seriously.
Recall that B-films, when good (and some are really good), represent a special niche in Hollywood. They are the films that that gave definition to the term “cliffhanger.” And they prepared the way for contemporary action films, which are derivative of the old Republic Films serials featured in matinees on countless Saturdays. Kids filled the balconies, hands sticky with Milk Duds or JuJubes, sitting stone still when Don Winslow of the Navy careened off a cliff in a black town car (with massive whitewalls), and groaned when the screen was suddenly filled with “To Be Continued.” I don’t think it’s a stretch to point out that the aquaman in “The Shape of Water” could be the twin of the man-fish in the 1950s film, “The Creature From the Black Lagoon.” Ditto the pulpy sci-fi films of the same era, B-movies all.
The newly released “Tomb Raider” is remarkable, and as tightly put together as is lead actress Alicia Vikander, who’s completely buff and totally up to what proves to be a fast-paced series of cliffhangers requiring serious physical challenges.
It’s pedal to the metal, even in the opening backstory scenes. For seven years, Lara has been grieving for her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), refusing to believe he is dead. He vanished into the ether of an expedition. However, he does leave Lara with a clue, discovered as she sits in one of his corporate offices, preparing to sign a document that will do two things: acknowledge he is deceased, thus making her officially the heir to a massive fortune.
Clue in hand, Lara abruptly leaves the conference room and returns to the Croft estate, a place she has not visited since his disappearance. She has refused to use his wealth or live in what is actually her home.
In his crypt, she discovers a secret room, filled with research and a journal that explains where he has gone, warning her not to follow; instead she is instructed to burn his papers.
Apparently, her father was in the hunt for the tomb of a demonic queen, buried in a mountain on an island in what is known as the Devil’s Triangle, off the coast of Japan.
Cut to Hong Kong, where Lara is looking for a specific rusty freighter and passage to the Triangle and then the island shown in his journal.
Thus begins the Lara Croft adventure, heading into the unknown, with a drunken captain (David Wu), no crew and a map.
It’s at this point that it becomes evident that the Croft story is clearly derivative of “The Raiders of the Lost Ark,” an iconic adventure film that has inspired not only sequels, but other A/B movies.
As an aside, Lara is no Wonder Woman and is never portrayed as a superhero. Nor is she the fragile wife in “The Danish Girl” (which earned her an Oscar). She is vulnerable while being incredibly courageous and brave and willing to risk all as she searches for her father.
Of course, despite treacherous seas and the rusty ship breaking up on the rocks off the found island, she perseveres. What happens is part of the fun of this well-crafted movie, nicely told and gorgeously made.
Know that Vikander invests fully in the character. She delivers a fearless performance and is supremely athletic. She is also supported by a talented ensemble of fine actors and the villains are, well, dependably villainous, led by Walter Googins as Mathias Vogel, a man obsessed, even after seven years, with finding a way to break into the forbidden tomb.
This is flat-out good B-movie making. And if you’re a fan of this genre, then don’t miss “Tomb Raider.”