Alicia Vikander has played the Queen of Denmark, a murderous cyborg, and the wife of the first man to have sex-reassignment surgery, for which she won the best supporting actress Oscar in 2016 — all before turning 30. If she wants to take a vacation by trying to jump-start her very own action franchise, she’s earned the right.
If only “Tomb Raider” felt like the beginning of something instead of the same old same old. After a brisk and promising opening half-hour set in London and Hong Kong, the movie devolves into a Saturday matinee B-movie, and not in a good way. It’s pure product, and a waste of a savvy leading actress.
It’s not only Vikander who’s left in the lurch. A British production that lacks the usual high Hollywood gloss — I do mean that in a good way — “Tomb Raider” brings on a host of classy players and strands them with a dud script. The movie, of course, is extrapolated from the long-running video game series featuring a bodacious Amazonian version of Indiana Jones; it was previously filmed as “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” in 2001.
That earlier version starred Angelina Jolie and emphasized the power-vixen aspects and the stuntwork; in keeping with more recent iterations of the video game, Vikander’s Lara Croft is more recognizably human and much less sexualized than Jolie’s babe of steel. The enjoyable early scenes present Croft as a high-born heiress living lowdown in London, kickboxing for fun and leading her fellow bike messengers on a merry chase through the busy midday streets.
Her explorer father (Dominic West of Showtime’s “The Affair”) has been missing for seven years, but Lara won’t sign the death certificate that would free up his billions, despite discreet pressure from Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi as dad’s business minions. Instead, the heroine deciphers a cryptic puzzle, which leads to a hidden workroom, which leads to a desperate message, which leads to a mysterious island off the coast of Japan.
Here’s what’s good about “Tomb Raider”: Vikander. The actress has a lithe, no-nonsense presence that balances subtle humor with ferocious derring-do, and she literally throws herself into the stunts. Having played in big-budget exercises like “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and “Jason Bourne” — but always in support of the male leads — it’s clear that she relishes the chance to be no one’s heroine but her own.
Here’s what’s bad about “Tomb Raider”: virtually everything else. Once Lara and a cute Chinese ship’s captain engagingly played by Daniel Wu — the film hints he might be a love interest but never works up the nerve — make it to the mysterious island, we meet a bad guy, Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins of TV’s “Justified”), who’s after the same thing dad was: an ancient tomb containing the remains of a legendary and possibly still-lethal queen.
Like the rest of the cast, Goggins has talent, but even he can’t do anything with the boilerplate dialogue (“Open the tomb!” “Never!”). The director is Norway’s Roar Uthaug, getting a shot at (or near) Hollywood after the success of “The Wave” (2015), but he’s unable to bring much life to this pro forma “Raiders of the Lost Ark” rip-off, complete with rolling booby traps, eldritch curses, and brain-teasers (“It’s a color puzzle!”) that might keep your thumbs twitching on a game console but are more or less death on the big screen.
It all feels depressingly generic, and as the fun leaks out over the course of two long hours, a viewer starts to push back against the film’s rickety suspension of disbelief. The villain is working for a larger evil entity called Trinity, and the biggest threat in “Tomb Raider” is the promise of a sequel. Something tells me Lara Croft will be hanging on that particular cliff for a long time to come.
Directed by Roar Uthaug. Written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Alastair Siddons, and Evan Daugherty. Starring Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristen Scott Thomas. At multiplexes in Boston and suburbs. 118 minutes. PG-13 (sequences of violence and action, and some language).Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.