Still from 'TombRaider'
Still from ‘TombRaider’

Alicia Vikander delivers a lean Lara Croft in this action reboot.

I wasn’t expecting lesbians in Tomb Raider, the new prequel to the 2001 and 2003 versions starring Angelina Jolie. And yet the film opens with an androgynous lesbian in a boxing ring putting Lara Croft (played by a taut and toned Alicia Vikander) through her paces. The anonymous dyke even defeats our heroine with a headlock, but not before Lara realizes her limits and sets her sights on exceeding them. So thank you, an unnamed lesbian character, for putting our protagonist on her path!

While this edgy, gritty reboot may offer less Lara Croft eye candy than our Angelina (Norwegian director Roar Uthaug seems immune to objectifying his female subjects), there are some welcome amendments to the Tomb Raider formula including the casting of Oscar-winner Vikander herself: she is no iconic plump-lipped bombshell in body-hugging fetishwear — not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

I personally miss Jolie’s iconic performance of a Lara that fit the end-of-the-millennium, post-lesbian chic vibe perfectly. But oh, how times have changed with (necessary) super-serious social media-driven feminism and the advancement of big-screen special effects. This movie packs more punch and this Lara is dressed for rugged action and self-defence. She’s determined to find out how her father, Sir Richard Croft (played by Dominic West) died, and she refuses to inherit the family fortune or take a bubble bath until she does.

Cue old-fashioned stuff about a secret chamber, antique puzzles, enigmatic maps, a priceless amulet…and then the action sequences begin, such as Lara fighting to survive a gargantuan storm in the Devil Sea, and escaping from a rusty skeleton of an aeroplane perched over a plunging ravine via a tattered parachute.

Vikander is mesmerizing with her ridiculously toned abs and her soulful, expressive eyes. Watch her run, swim, scale rocks, and leap over chasms while panting, grimacing in pain, and grieving her father. She’s not so much a computer avatar as she is a young woman for the #MeToo protest generation who is battling the odds set by crazy or corrupt older folks. This heiress in denial refuses her fate and would rather stubbornly pursue her own instincts.


Still from 'TombRaider'
Still from ‘TombRaider’

Her fierce independence is nicely set up in an early sequence wherein her day job as a London bike courier — she takes a bet to be the ‘fox’ in a bicycle ‘hunt’. Of course, the challenge is to outfox her male pursuers and this becomes the overriding theme of the film: Lara testing her wits and physical endurance against men, most notably the deranged villain Mathias Vogel (played by Walter Goggins).

At the heart of the story is Lara’s relationship with her father and mentor, and lesbians with unresolved dad issues may find this part of the plot very moving. The scenes on the forbidden and mythical Japanese island which contains the crypt of a supposedly evil queen who has the potential to curse the world if she is untombed have more than a touch of Prospero and Miranda about them. Spoiler: Dad’s alive and trying to keep the tomb sealed.

But don’t go to see Tomb Raider for the excavation of the tomb itself. You’ve seen similar in the Indiana Jones and The Mummy franchises. While what we learn about Queen Himiko is interesting, the real pleasure of this Tomb Raider is Alicia Vikander’s distinctively living embodiment of Lara Croft.

Part athlete, part sleuth, this Lara is all sinew and soulful drive. She’s not only determined not to be a victim — she wants to save her dad, and possibly the world, too. Watching Vikander’s exquisite olive-skinned knuckle of a face was enough to hold my attention throughout this movie. Her tomboy grit and determination makes me think she can even pull off a sequel.

But the film winds down with a tease involving the criminally underused Kristin Scott Thomas, and Lara purchasing those two chunky handguns that become her signature weapons — just when it feels like it should get going. I guess we’ll have to wait for the sequel to see if Lara can save the world. I think we need her.

Watch on Apple TV