Can Tomb Raider save a genre and break a terrible curse?

Could Tomb Raider be the spark that finally lights the fires of credibility for the beleaguered video game movie genre? Well you might need to blow on it really hard.

Alicia Vikander in character as Lara Croft

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You see, movies based on video games are generally not very good. Indeed not one of them has even come close to being a stupendous cinematic work of art that would launch the career of any actor or director.

Even googling video game movies will yield articles that will rank them from “least bad” to “worst”. The bar is very, very low.

If you want proof, look no further than 1994’s Double Dragon, or pretty much any pile of shit that has the name Uwe Boll listed on it as the producer.

A long history

In case you’ve been living in a tomb, Tomb Raider is a wildly successful video game franchise that debuted in 1996. It’s disproportionately voluptuous, polygon protagonist Lara Croft became an overnight success and over the last 22 years we have seen 18 games and (prior to this one) three movies, two of which starred Angelia Jolie as Lara and a really b-grade one that starred Anna Tyrie. The games started out ok but quickly fell into repetitive mediocrity and the movies were garbage.

The character of Lara Croft was in danger of being stuck in the fantasies of pre-pubescent boys and lonely young men until she received a reboot in 2013 where we saw a new, more accessible Lara,  served up in a new Tomb Raider game that built a solid origin story as a base for future games, movies etc. This was actually the first Tomb Raider game that I properly played since the original and it was amazing, I loved it. The sexualised Lara Croft with heaving bosom, short shorts and twin pistols was replaced by a vulnerable character that you played through a series of harrowing experiences that shaped her into this powerful, and complex woman. It was much, much better. It was also a heartening reflection of how the game industry had begun to progress in recent times, moving towards more relatable characters that appealed to girls as well as guys. It is definitely up there with one of the better titles I have played through in my long history of gaming.

When they said they were making this movie, said it was loosely based on this new game and they had cast Alicia Vikander (who you might recognise from Ex Machina) as Lara, I was pretty elated. But cautious. After all, this is a movie based on a game.

This is the first big Hollywood film from Norwegian director Roar Uthaug, and like I said, has a lot similarities to the recent rebooted game, especially in the looks department.

The story

Lara is the daughter of a wealthy adventurer who has a bit of a crisis after his wife/her mother dies and he bails on her at regular intervals to chase adventures. Kind of like the deadbeat dad version of Indiana Jones. He doesn’t come back from his most recent self indulgent foray and leaves Lara to grow up on her own, in East London. As a bicycle courier. With a bunch of hipsters.

She refuses to accept that her father is dead, however seven years later she decides to move on without him. That is until she gets to the reading of his will where she’s required to solve a series of puzzles set up by Deadbeat Daddy Croft that ends up with her trying to uncover the mystery of his disappearance. This takes her to the Island of Yamatai to find the tomb of the empress Himoko who was said to the empress of death and destruction, or some shit. Turns out she needs to get there before the bad guys do because they will unleash Himoko’s evil on the world. Whatever that means.

The cast

Alicia Vikander is perfectly cast as Lara, instantly likeable, vulnerable and tough in the right proportions. Daniel Wu is decent as her sidekick Lu Ren. Dominic West is ok as her dad, but because Lara’s dad is a bit of a dickhead it kind of breaks any emotional connection between him and his daughter. Kristin Scott Thomas is adequate as Ana Miller who’s been running the Croft empire in the absence of daddy Croft and Walton Goggins, is a bad guy no doubt. He plays the part ok but his character is pretty one dimensional, he’s got a gun, he needs to be first to find Himoko and he kind of sucks.

The verdict

Tomb Raider is not a terrible film, it’s just that it’s not a very good one either. And it’s not quite good enough to break the gamer movie curse. It’s really just a series of cool action sequences stitched together by a rushed and fairly simple plot. A plot that has holes, including a massive one that bypasses an entire room during an escape sequence in the final act.

Because the movie fails to strike a balance between action and story there’s no time given to establish Lara’s character. She’s never full realised and I think that’s because, as a gamer, when you play through Lara’s origin story it takes you about 10 hours. You have a lot of time to get to know the character, and you spend a lot of time watching her get her arse kicked before she finally becomes that battle hardened Tomb Raider that we know and love. When that happens in the game, it provides you with a massive payoff. In the movie, they rush to that get to moment and it’s really underwhelming.

It doesn’t help that throughout the movie she is surrounded almost entirely by dudes. Lara is the guest of honour at a sausage fest, in the game at least she has a few female friends to lean on and explore other sides to her character. It really added to the drama and sadly, that’s nowhere to be seen in this film.

It sounds like a tall order to expect them to cram 10 hours of character development into a movie, but when you strip away a lot of the elements like jumping around doubling back to find loot and bumping into shit, it’s certainly achievable and I feel like they didn’t even try here.

While Alicia Vikander is without a doubt the best incarnation of Lara Croft we’ve seen, and seeing her in the role is a total highlight, she’s let down by a mediocre plot and weak, cliched supporting characters.


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