Heroine thrills: Alicia Vikander superior to storyline
Angelina Jolie proved to be a dynamic Lara Croft in her two cinematic at-bats, but 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and 2003’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider — The Cradle of Life were so daft and derivative that they did the actress no favors. Now comes the inevitable reboot, and while Tomb Raider might be every bit as derivative as its antecedents, it’s certainly not as daft. Yet, as before, its greatest strength rests with its leading lady.
Like Jolie, Alicia Vikander is also a Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner electing to exercise her physical side. But her Lara Croft is a far cry from Jolie’s more confident and muscular heroine. Vikander’s take on the role is less “Wonder Woman” and more “Everywoman,” and it’s an interesting reversal of expectations that provides the picture with additional resonance.
The plot finds Lara heading off to unknown territories to locate her father (Dominic West), who’s been MIA for seven years. She acquires a friend in a drunken sea captain (solid Daniel Wu), lands an enemy in a vicious slave driver (snoozy Walton Goggins), and becomes involved in the effort to open the final resting place of an ancient queen who had the power to destroy people simply by touching them. It’s all rather pedestrian, but director Roar Uthaug does manage to stage a couple of exciting action set-pieces that rise above the expected clutter (one involving a storm, the other a waterfall).
Still, it’s Vikander who’s primarily responsible for the picture’s limited success. She transforms Lara Croft into a person who becomes extraordinary despite her relative ordinariness. When Lara sustains an injury (and she collects contusions the way some people collect stamps), there’s no stiff upper lip at work here — she cries out in a manner that makes us wince. When she’s dangling over some precipice, there’s no instant flexing of the muscles that lifts her out of harm’s way — she has to draw strength from every millimeter of her body to hoist herself out of her precarious predicament. For a character who began life as a video game avatar, she’s quite human — and certainly more so than the protagonists in past video-game adaptations (including the hero played by Vikander’s real-life husband, Michael Fassbender, in the 2016 debacle Assassin’s Creed).
If a sequel to Tomb Raider gets greenlit, let’s hope the focus is on crafting a better storyline. Because Lara Croft herself needs no upgrade.
IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO PREDICT what real-life stories will capture the fancy of an inquisitive teen, and one of mine was the saga of Air France Flight 139, which was hijacked during the summer of 1976 by Palestinian and German terrorists and allowed to set down at Uganda’s Entebbe Airport with the permission of the brutal dictator Idi Amin. Since the passengers were mostly Jewish, it was up to Israeli commandos to attempt to rescue them in a daring raid that was labeled Operation Thunderbolt.
My interest in this historical event was perhaps stirred by the fact that it was largely a rebuke of Murphy’s Law, a rare instance of things ultimately going right in a world in which everything mostly gets messed up (as had happened with a previous terrorist siege, the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics). At any rate, my fascination was pronounced enough that I not only read books and delivered a school paper on the subject but also caught all three cinematic renditions: Israel’s 1977 Operation Thunderbolt, a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee starring Klaus Kinski and Sybil Danning, 1976’s Victory at Entebbe, a made-for-T.V. movie with Anthony Hopkins and Elizabeth Taylor, and 1977’s Raid on Entebbe, another made-for-T.V. flick, this one headlining Charles Bronson and Peter Finch.
Belatedly joining the party is the new drama 7 Days in Entebbe, which is different from its predecessors in that it spends more time analyzing the mindsets of its terrorists — or at least the two German ones, played with the proper levels of intensity by Rosamund Pike and Daniel Brühl. This version also digs deeper into the political strife between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Lior Ashkenazi), who hopes for a peaceful resolution, and Minister of Defense Shimon Peres (Eddie Marsan), who supports a more aggressive approach.
7 Days in Entebbe is absorbing for much of its running time, maintaining interest as it cuts back and forth between the terrorists, the hostages, and the government suits. It’s only during the home stretch that the picture largely falls apart, with thoughtful exchanges eventually crowded out by bombastic speeches meant to dot the “i” and cross the “t” of every moral position championed by the film. Worse, a time-wasting subplot about the relationship between an Israeli commando (Ben Schnetzer) and his dancer girlfriend (Zina Zinchenko) inexplicably grows in prominence as the picture progresses, and the rescue operation — a sequence that should have audiences on the edges of their seats — is destroyed by interspersing its particulars with moments from a theatrical dance production.
It’s an unfortunate turn of events, because a movie that should have struck with all the force of a thunderbolt instead seems content with distributing a firm rap on the knuckles.