Dave Allen once said that men know they’re getting older when they watch Sunset Boulevard and realise they find Gloria Swanson quite attractive. Similarly, a certain generation will sense the grim reaper’s presence now that Angelina Jolie is no longer the screen face of Lara Croft, because the mantle has passed to Alicia Vikander.
This Lara is notably more serious and sensitive, and unlike Angelina, or the figure in the 90s video game – or indeed Karen Gillan in the new Jumanji movie – she doesn’t have to wear cute shorts or revealing clothes, which is fair enough. But she does an awful lot of very pathetic and borderline creepy daddy-daughter pining for that all-important man in her life. It’s a fantastically lacklustre appearance from Dominic West as the stately parent from a stately home, the daring anthropologist “Lord Richard Croft” (the son of a duke or earl, perhaps?).
This guy is forever smiling wisely in soft focus flashback in the grounds of Croft Manor, which has the same totemic importance as Wayne Manor, always kissing the demure infant Lara’s forehead or indeed brushing his fingers with his lips and touching her forehead (eeuuww) prior to going off on one of his dangerous ethnological adventures. In one flashback, he is wearing a hideous chocolate-brown double-breasted suit. But Lord Richard disappeared some time ago, on a mission to discover the tomb of the ancient Japanese Queen Himiko, on a remote and dangerous island – and he is now presumed dead.
Naturally, this grownup Lara Croft is still supposed to be a total badass, proficient in kick-boxing and mixed martial arts; she has a job as a bike messenger in London, sexily toughing it out in that streetwise way of hers, until she is ready to accept that her wealthy aristocratic father did in fact die so she can inherit the title, effective control of his company and a colossal amount of money. The family name is very important to her. At one stage, she says, proudly: “I’m sorry, I’m not that sort of Croft.” The Croft that she’s like is Annabel.
This new Tomb Raider has been exasperatingly set up as an origin myth, teeing up a possible new franchise, which partly explains the emphasis on the ageing and tiresome Lord Richard. Lara’s late mother, incidentally, is utterly irrelevant and never mentioned, and never gets a flashback of her own.
The action splutters into life when Lara shows up at the glitzy Croft headquarters in London to have the deeds to the family firm handed over by the company lawyer: a quaint role for Derek Jacobi. She is also subject to the tolerant gaze of her family trustee, Ana Miller, played by Kristen Scott Thomas with a quizzical look in her eye, as if she has just realised that her fee may still be subject to her agent’s commission.
A ancient Japanese puzzle box, the property of the late Lord Richard, is handed over to her – and in it she instantly finds a vital piece of paper, and then her dad’s notebook, which contains top-secret handwritten notes, maps and line drawings of that dangerous island, rather like Alfred Wainwright’s books about the Lake District. This remarkable document is to lead her on a journey to Hong Kong and then this Japanese island itself, where she will discover the terrifying truth about what happened to the man in her life.
In the course of all this, Lara will undergo all sort of Indiana Jones-esque challenges and ordeals, a borrowing so casual and widespread that it’s easy to forget that it is actually derivative. There is hardly a stone surface anywhere in the film that will not grindingly reveal a trapdoor, a recessed panel, or a large metal spike – and all with a certain mysterious engineering that provides for a considerable amount of movement without a power source, in the much-loved and time-honoured manner.
And throughout Vikander maintains a kind of serene evenness of manner. Blandness is Lara’s theme.