TUCSON, Ariz. - Usually, the only thing worse than a movie based on a video game is a video game based on a movie. And the bar for what qualifies as a decent game-bases film is not set so high. Anything more than a laughable failure qualifies as a solid entry in the game-to-film canon, which qualifies the likes of "Resident Evil" and "Warcraft" to be hailed as successes.
While the "Tomb Raider" reboot isn't spectacular, it's way better than its predecessors, and manages to do twin pistol-blasting, cliff-hopping cartwheels over the cheesy Angelina Jolie vehicles of the early 2000s. Alicia Vikander is more of a relatable, girl-next-door-who-happens-to-be-able-to-snap-villains-heads-with-leg-locks than the smirking, action figure caricature that Jolie was.
It also helps that the film draws influence from the more mature, recent "Tomb Raider" games -- don't laugh, they are actually a thing -- that rebooted the franchise and eschewed some of its more idiotic trappings in favor of gritty survival tales.
This new "Tomb Raider" is vicious and wince-inducing rather than frantic and eye-rolling. The new film not only re-energizes the character, but lays the groundwork for a stalwart franchise to come in the manner of "Batman Begins" or the Marvel superhero origin stories of the past decade. That's much in part to the focus on Lara Croft's background as an unruly, unwilling heiress who takes part in illegal street chases for side cash before gradually evolving into a globe-hopping treasure hunter.
Norwegian director Roar Uthaug, a relative newcomer, proves adept at crafting visceral action scenes intertwined with emotionally resonant interludes.
Croft is a vulnerable yet tough and crafty scamp who is looking for answers following the disappearance of her secretive father (Dominic West). Her travels set her at odds with Vogel (eternal movie/TV bad guy Walter Goggins) and his squadron of corporate-backed international mercenaries.
Everyone ends up some supernatural something-or-other that happens to be sequestered inside an ancient temple filled with "Indiana Jones"-style traps. In the world of Lara Croft, there is always a tomb and a reason to raid it, but the requisite tomb raiding that needs to be done is ancillary to Lara's growth and development as a human being rather than a video game sex symbol.
Whenever Uthaug has the choice to shift his tone to cheap, easy thrills, he goes the tougher route to favor raw, gritty conflict. By sticking with the lower key, he manages to forge something resembling genuine tension and drama rather than paint-by-numbers thrills.
The fact that a movie this robust has been forged out of a polygonal gaming icon ogled by 13-year-old boys in the mid-1990s is every bit as much of a crafty heist as exploring ruins for ancient relics.
This new Lara Croft is forged of iron rather than pixels, and built to last.