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Alicia Vikander is too good for an uninspiring Tomb Raider

Alicia Vikander in a scene from "Tomb Raider." (Ilze Kitshoff/Warner Bros. Pictures via AP)
Published Mar. 15, 2018

Before we never hear from him again, and almost certainly we won't after Tomb Raider, let's hail the name Roar Uthaug.

Just the name. Not his movie.

Has there ever been a more perfect name for an action movie director than Roar? It's like a '80s rock star named Hair or a celebrity chef called Beef. The name just fits.

"Roar" also hints at thundering excitement that Tomb Raider isn't carrying in its canvas backpack. Maybe a girl-power growl here and there, an interesting first half then a supernatural cavern caper on the level of Indiana Jones, the theme park version with understudies.

Tomb Raider also cements video game adventurer Lara Croft as the perfect landing spot for best supporting actress Academy Award winners to cash in. Angelina Jolie was every fanboy's fantasy come to life in 2001, an icy, armed vixen with all the right poses. Alicia Vikander's purpose in this reboot/prequel is to eventually become Jolie's version after warmer, naive origins.

Vikander's Lara is a spunky London bicycle courier taking her lumps in mixed martial arts class when Tomb Raider begins. Lara is behind on her gym fees like every other payment in her life. That wouldn't be a problem if she'd finally declare her father dead after seven years and accept his inheritance. That's what her adviser, played instantly suspicious by Kristin Scott Thomas, wants.

Lara almost signs off but finds a clue leading to another clue and so on, informing that her father (Dominic West) disappeared while seeking the tomb in line to be raided. It contains the remains of Himiko, a centuries-dead Japanese witch, a supernatural force capable of destroying the world. Eh, it's no more drastic than the usual zombie movie virus making victims curdle and froth.

Himiko's force is contained on a ultra-remote island where evil Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) leads a slave-labor expedition to find it. Lara must stop him and find her father, running a twice-described gantlet of cliff puzzles, ladder crossings and boulder dodging. The end game sets up a sequel that isn't the slam dunk Uthaug hopes for.

Tomb Raider's early action sequences are stunt-driven, frantically edited: a bicycle chase for cash through London traffic, Lara pursuing punks through Hong Kong junks, a shipwreck disaster. Once Lara hits the island the SFX team's hydraulics begin to show, toppling temples and rolling stones. Uthaug manages one action set piece to polish his resume, a cliff dive sweeping Lara to a rust-bucket airplane perched over a waterfall. The scene keeps raising stakes and eyebrows until we, like Lara, can only beg: "Really?" Best five minutes in the movie.

Vikander is a grounded choice as action hero, in fighting shape yet vulnerable. Lara is appealing enough in humor and drive, but Vikander brings deeper notes than the script and green screens require, from sorrow and fear to first-kill horror. Tomb Raider isn't a place to expect good acting even from an Oscar winner, but Vikander persists.

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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