Is Tomb Raider the one? Can Lara Croft break the curse of the video game adaptation? It’s been a helluva run. It began in 1993 with the release of Super Mario Bros. and the genre has never recovered.
Looking at a list of movies based on video games, I marvel at how consistently awful they’ve been. We talk about how bad they are every time a new one comes out, but you really have no idea until you look at the list. Seriously, from Street Fighter to BloodRyane to Max Payne to Assassin’s Creed, the batting average is .000. You could convince me of the merits of Mortal Kombat, but that’s it.
Which is why my expectations going into Tomb Raider were so low. This marks the second attempt at adapting the popular video game franchise of the same name from the ‘90s. Angelina Jolie previously starred in two movies in the early ‘00s.
Oscar winner, Alicia Vikander, takes over the new grittier version, which is based on the video game reboot in 2013.
Despite being the heir to a fortune, Lara Croft is reluctant to sign on the dotted line to her inheritance. Doing so would acknowledge that her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), who has been missing for seven years, is dead. But she rejects the idea that he’s truly gone.
While in the process of perhaps accepting his death, she discovers an artifact in his collection that quite literally holds the key to finding out what happened to him. Now she’s on a journey to a mysterious island somewhere off the coast of Japan in search of answers.
When Croft arrives on the island, she’s met with resistance from Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). He and a group of mercenaries have enslaved a group of people to help find an ancient tomb that may hold a secret power because that’s what tombs must always do in these types of movies.
Goggins is menacing, but we don’t really get to know anything about him other than he “needs to get off this island.” Which is disappointing considering Goggins has played a terrific villain before on the television show, Justified. I realize Tomb Raider is only a two-hour movie, but after seeing Black Panther, I need my villains to have a little more depth. I know, it’s asking a lot. But the actual raiding of the tomb isn’t what this movie is about.
Tomb Raider is a cross between Batman Begins and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It’s an origins story and at the heart of it is the relationship between Lara and her father. It’s the driving force behind the film and if you accept that, then you’ll probably have a good time.
Vikander is tremendous in the titular role and despite not having a lot of dialogue, she does a terrific job of emoting just with her face. It’s a surprisingly nuanced performance for a video game movie. West is equally strong as the absentee father. He loves her, but to protect her, he must stay away to prevent something catastrophic from occurring.
Tomb Raider is directed by Roar Uthaug, a Norwegian filmmaker best known for his 2015 disaster film, The Wave. Despite this being his first big Hollywood film, Uthaug shows great promise. The set pieces are well executed and different. The first act features a terrifically shot chase scene through the streets of London and he continues with a foot chase on boats and Lara attempting to escape an abandoned plane that teeters on the edge of a waterfall.
He also acknowledges pain and consequences. At one point, Lara kills a man to survive and Uthaug takes a moment for her to soak in what she’s done. You don’t see that very often. Vikander also nails the physicality.
Despite being tiny, she bulks up for this role and it’s convincing when she lands a punch or falls from a tree. But she isn’t indestructible or a superhero and Vikander sells every grunt and grimace.
The film might disappoint fans of the older video games and perhaps the two Jolie films. It definitely takes itself seriously and as a result, there isn’t much humor in the film. The ending however sets up a more fun sequel that we will hopefully get. This one needed to lay the groundwork.
They also don’t treat her like a sex object which is great. Lara Croft is a pioneering character in a predominately male culture and to see her as a smart and bad-ass character who doesn’t randomly take a hot steamy shower or fall in love was great to see.
Despite some pacing issues here and there and the usual exposition problems, the filmmakers were able to take their time to develop not only Lara’s desire to forge her own path, but also the idea of family legacy. Does a video game movie only work if it closely follows the source material? Not necessarily. Tomb Raider is a good summer action movie. Does it reinvent the wheel? No. But who cares. It’s a video game adaptation that’s ACTUALLY WELL MADE!
We’re on the right track. Baby steps, people. That is until Rampage comes out in a couple of months and brings it all crashing down again. Hopefully Dwayne Johnson remembered his time on Doom while making Rampage.