In the age of adaptations, where every kind of property from books to old movies themselves have been mined for consumption on the big screen, it’s always somewhat surprising that video games are often left by the wayside. That’s not to say it’s never been done – Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat seem to have started it all back in the nineties – but it has never seemingly been achieved in a critically and commercially successful way. Video game movies have long been an oddity in Hollywood, and as technology advances to the point where many such games are almost movies themselves, it’s strange that a good one has never been made before.
In that sense, Tomb Raider succeeds pretty wildly. It has some issues as a film itself, but as a video game adaptation, it certainly is better than the schlock viewers have been subjected to over the years, which includes recent fare such as 2016’s Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed.
Adapted from Square Enix’s 2013 game of the same name, Tomb Raider provides viewers with plenty of action, great visuals, and a heroine who is more grounded in reality than many other action stars in Hollywood today. Alicia Vikander – who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2016 – gives her portrayal of the untested Lara Croft some depth, while also managing to come across as a real badass when her limits are pushed to their extremes. She also explores the pain behind the loss of Croft’s father, Richard, a theme that drives the action of the entire film. It’s one that will be familiar to gamers, as her absent father is often what drives her to greatness, and it certainly isn’t an unfamiliar trope to movie-goers everywhere.
The most glaring issue with Tomb Raider, however, is a simple one: the origin story is just somewhat uninteresting, and is pretty generic overall. When Croft is gunning down unnamed assailants, letting the arrows from her makeshift bow fly, grappling in the mud, that’s where the movie soars – it is an action movie, after all. It keeps the viewer invested in what she is doing, and how she’s doing it. However, any time it stops to ask why, it just grinds to a complete halt. Before the audience even gets to see her doing any of those actions in the first place, the movie takes almost a full half hour (almost a quarter of its total run time) to explain why she’s in her current situation – something that could have been achieved with a quick voiceover, if that. Croft is so famous already it begs the question, why devote so much time and energy to something that is decidedly not raiding tombs?
The big twist in the film is hardly a twist at all, but it finally hardens her into the Tomb Raider of legend. It’s all very rote, and none of it comes as very much of a surprise.
Perhaps the only other major issue would be noticeable to someone who has played the video games, but the very character of Lara Croft seems to have been misunderstood. Lara goes to the island only to find out what happened to her father, and once she gets there, it’s explained that she never attended university. The natural fascination with antiquities that mostly defines the original Croft is lacking, her knowledge explained away by simply having an eccentric father. Even at the end of the film, it’s implied she is going to continue hunting tombs to stop the Trinity cult, rather than actually wanting to explore and discover – she is seemingly a ‘Tomb Raider’ only in name, and not by intent. It seems a shame to cut that out completely, as that could have been a small detail that not only made her more interesting, but also added some heft to the inevitable sequel. Then again, it’s not as though anyone who hasn’t played the games would know that, so perhaps the filmmakers felt it best to not include that.
Vikander, as mentioned, is fantastic as Lara, and undoubtedly will continue to shine in the role, but the few supporting cast members were pretty well done themselves. Dominic West (television’s The Wire and The Affair) has a hefty role as Richard Croft, Lara’s father, and he manages to have the warmth for his daughter shine through in every word he speaks to Vikander – their chemistry is a highlight of the movie. On the same note, Daniel Wu as boat captain Lu Ren is Lara’s method of transportation to the island, and her friend once they arrive, and it’s quite refreshing to see a minority get as much screen time as he does.
Finally, Walton Goggins’ villain Matthias Vogel is relatively compelling as the leader of the evil organization Trinity, giving his character a unique spin. Vogel wants to find the object that he’s spent seven years searching for, but not because he believes in the cause or the supernatural – he just wants to get home to see his daughters, as we learn in his very first on-screen appearance. As the villain, it’s oddly easy to feel sympathy for him…until his very next scene. The sympathy is pretty short-lived.
It’s impossible to watch this movie and not feel as though a more modern Indiana Jones is unfolding on the screen – of course, none of these movies or video games alike would exist without it, but from the deadly traps to the dramatic escape from the collapsing tomb, it evokes Spielberg’s masterpiece in a fun way.
All in all, the movie itself succeeds by having a bonafide star in Alicia Vikander anchoring the proceedings, and everything else sort of convalesces around her. Her origins may be a little forgettable, but they still manage to provide some entertaining set pieces – even though it’s easy to catch yourself wondering what her next real adventure is going to be.
While no release date for a potential sequel has been announced, the next installment in the video game franchise, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, comes out on PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on September 14, 2018.
You can find Shoaib Alli on Twitter (@SNSAlli) for more thoughts about Tomb Raider, a number of other films, and even video games.