Video Games have had a long history of not having very good movie adaptations. From the very first (and possibly worst) Video Game adaption, Super Mario Bros. in 1993 to the more recent releases of Assassin’s Creed and even Rampage, these films seem to try hard only to find themselves lacking in even the most basic of plots or even a recognizable script. With rare exceptions like the Resident Evil Franchise, seldom do one of these movies get a second or even a third chance at finding themselves on the big screen.
Today’s film is one that has had not one but two previous incarnations, but, with the relaunch of the game franchise, it only made sense that they would try to revitalize the films as well.
Tomb Raider is a complete reboot after the abysmal Angelina Jolie attempt in 2001 and again in 2003. Based on the 2013 reboot game of the same name, this movie tells pretty much the same story of that game with some minor edits for time. Gone is the over the top ‘big breasted’ heroine and in her place is a much more realistic female lead in Swedish Actress Alicia Vikander. In this version, Lara Croft is a much more relate-able character who just wants to find out what happened to her father (played by Dominic West) after he disappeared in her youth some 7 years prior. Having trained herself on the streets of London, she soon begins to come to terms with the death of her father only to find out he has left clues to where he went all those years ago. Apparently, he wanted to prevent the end of the world by finding a mummy of an ancient queen or some-such.
Using her problem solving skills, Lara teams up with Lu Ren (played by Daniel Wu) and winds up on an uncharted island in near Japan in what is known as The Devil’s Sea. Soon they find themselves enslaved by Mathias Vogel (played by Walton Goggins) only to end up on a death defying adventure on the island and finally in the tomb of Queen Himiko herself. I mean it wouldn’t be Tomb Raider without an actual tomb now would it?
Everyone in this film plays their parts to the very best of their abilities. They really care about the film and, as it is very much a retelling of the video game it is based on, they do their best to embody the characters they are playing. Vikander portrayal of Lara is a little lopsided at times as she goes from a street-smart girl who grew up wealthy to a literal Tomb Raiding adventurer in only a matter of days. It is clear she is trying to portray this journey but the story seems to force-feed her evolution so quickly she barely has time to catch up. Unlike the game where you get a chance to spend time with Lara as she suffers through challenge after challenge, it is almost as if a large part of her journey was edited away forcing Vikander to play a role she hasn’t really earned onscreen. It is as if we are watching the cut scenes of a game without the context that make them worthwhile. In many ways a classic 80’s montage would have been in order but sadly it never comes. While Alicia Vikander does a great job with what she is given, it is sad that she is never really given much.
The same can be said for the rest of the cast, her father Richard (West) comes across much more sane than he should be for a man who was trapped on a hostile island for seven years and the villain Mathias (Goggins) is not much of a foil for the Father Daughter duo of Richard and Lara Croft. The only one who really stands out is Lu Ren (Wu) but even his character arc is unbelievable as he goes from a drunk who also lost his father to the same island as Lara’s to being nothing but Lara’s version of Short-round. His search for his father never gets resolved in the course of the story either giving him really no real purpose other than someone who gets Lara to the island and also someone Lara eventually needs to save.
With all of that, it is one of the most faithful video game adaptations I have ever seen put to screen and that may be it’s biggest flaw. It is far too faithful. At times it almost felt like the director was playing the game on set and coming up with new things to put in the film as he progressed through the game. You almost get a sense of the quick time events that this game series has been plagued with in the past as you watch the film. There are even moments where the puzzle the games are famous for make appearances in places that only makes sense in a video game. If you are a fan of the series and have played the games, this film will feel like a weak rehash of the story you lived through for 40 plus hours, and if you haven’t played the games, you will almost feel like you are missing some hey components that would help you make sense of the film. Unfortunately this makes the movie only watchable as a dumb action film and even there it fails to really shine.
The Bottom Line:
It isn’t fair to say this movie is bad, it does have it’s good points. I did rather appreciate the attempt to make Lara more relate-able by showing her prior to her adventure engaging in extreme sports like MMA fighting and even some rather daredevil bike riding throughout London. If anything this would have made a much better Netflix Original television series than a motion picture, that at least would have allowed us the time needed to get to know Lara and show us that she has indeed earned her place as the Tomb Raider we have come to know and love.
All in all it is fun, it’s not terrible, it’s not great but I will say it has some fun moments. It’s one of those forgettable films that should you find yourself wanting to watch something mindless on HBO or your favorite streaming service it is worth your time. Heck, if you can manager a large amount of suspension of disbelief, then you can enjoy this film for it’s insane over the top action and very clear video game moments. However, if you pay more than a couple bucks for it, you will probably feel a might cheated. With all it’s faults, it is one of the best Video Game adaptions to date and sadly, that’s not saying much.