If you have played the 2013 Lara Croft origin story video game Tomb Raider, there is almost no reason to see the new Alicia Vikander film of the same name. Sure, there’s the matter of possibly wanting to support female-led action films or simply supporting the Tomb Raider franchise if you consider yourself a fan. After all, the fact that this film even exists is a minor victory given the state of female-led action and the 7-year development period the project went through. But other than a prologue featuring Lara as a bike courier this is an often shot-for-shot remake of the video game (and its sequel) with little real creative spark of its own.
A couple of video examples:
It begs the question: who is this movie for? Video game fans will find little new here beyond a unique-to-the-movie Batman Begins-esque framing device whereas non-video game fans might be left wondering why there are so many oddly paced action beats and astonishingly little actual story to speak of. For gamers, it’s the same old visuals with none of the old interaction; for non-gamers, it’s more or less just a ho-hum action movie.
The story, as originally written by Rhianna Pratchett and Susan O’Connor for the 2013 video game and now credited to Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons for the film, sees Lara Croft as a young heiress to an ill-defined fortune on a trip to find her presumed-dead dad (Dominic West’s Richard Croft). In contrast to the earlier films or video games you might be familiar with, she is not a Nathan Drake-esque treasure hunter. She’s simply a girl looking for a dad who abandoned her in search of a supernatural means to bring back her dead mother, and in the process, she ends up shipwrecked on a mysterious island.
Not dissimilar to Suicide Squad’s infamous multiple prologues problem, we actually learn everything about Richard’s quest two different times. First, the film opens with a voice-over from him and montage explaining the ancient curse of Himiko, a mythical Queen of the Yamatai said to have dominion over life and death. Then almost exactly the same dialogue and footage is replayed not 15 minutes later when Lara finds a video will from Richard explaining his disappearance.
It screams of a post-test screening studio note: The kids aren’t following the plot! But, really, I’ve seen far more egregious examples of this kind of thing in The Mummy and, of course, Suicide Squad. Plus, beyond the repetitive exposition, this opening section of the film is actually quite engaging, with Vikander immediately popping as a likable lead with an admirable degree of independence and determination while living a life of poverty as a bike courier. She could move back into the Croft family mansion at any time, and the family fortune is her’s to take as soon as she legally signs documents admitting her father, missing for 7 years, is dead. But she obviously has different ideas and doomed boat to catch. It’s their faint stab at a Christian Bale in Batman Begins kind of thing, and it works well enough.
Ala Brie Larson in Kong: Skull Island and Julianne Moore in Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Vikander’s another recent Oscar winning-actress who immediately cashed out and jumped into big-budget studio franchise filmmaking, with Tomb Raider actually being her third stab at this (after Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Jason Bourne). There’s been some debate, however, as to whether Vikander is too good for a movie like this.
My take: There’s nothing wrong with Vikander choosing to do a Tomb Raider movie. Why not try to follow Angelina Jolie’s career path? There is something wrong, however, with a Tomb Raider movie which so egregiously wastes her best efforts. She gives it her dramatic all in sequences with West and Walton Goggins, as the weary, rival archaeologist who just wants off the island at all costs, but for the majority of the run-time Vikander’s simply the human avatar of the digital character mo-capped and voiced by Camilla Luddington in the recent games. They toss her into one survival scenario after another, but beyond a couple of MMA-style fights, there’s not much of interest to the visuals and precious little emotion.
It’s all just a recreation of a video game (2013’s Tomb Raider) that was itself partially ripping off another video game (Uncharted) that was itself ripping off the Indiana Jones movies, which, of course, also served as the inspiration for the original Tomb Raider games and movies. Given that sea of mimicry, it’s hardly surprising that this new Tomb Raider comes off seeming so recycled and disposable.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The pacing is solid, the action serviceable, if unspectacular, and the lead performer engaging, but Tomb Raider’s also gritty to a fault, far too short on jokes, too slavish to the video games, lacks a solid villain, is overly predictable, and can be easily skipped and watched later on whatever streaming service it ends up on. Vikander is a great Lara Croft, but this is not a great Tomb Raider. But if you want to support female-led action movies, have a daughter or niece who might appreciate a female action hero, or you’re simply jonesing for a simple, thrill-a-minute survival action movie then Tomb Raider is a soft recommend, that is if you go in with lowered expectations.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- I remembered there was something fascinating about how the first Tomb Raider movie was made. So, I re-read Jay Epstein’s chapter about the film’s production in his book Hollywood Economist 2.0. Here’s the gist: through a series of tax shelter deals and foreign pre-sales, Paramount managed to raise enough capital to leave it on the hook for just $8.7m of Tomb Raider‘s $94m budget. It then ended up making over $100m in pure profit from the film’s ticket and DVD sales. The sequel didn’t fare as well, though, and the rights were sold off, which is how this new Tomb Raider ended up coming to us from Warner Bros. instead of Paramount.
- Here’s Rampage director Brad Peyton telling Total Film why he thinks film adaptations of story-based video games are so challenging: “I realised that the videogames that I’d seen adapted, generally speaking, kind of fell into this category of really beloved titles that have a really strong sense of story. That, I think, is a really difficult thing to deliver on, because those games are so good because you’re playing a story – and how do you beat that? How do you make a movie that’s better than playing the lead character in the movie? By definition, video games are immersive in that way.”
- Here’s a video explainer of Vikander’s intense workout regiment which allowed her to add 16 pounds of muscle to her 5’5” frame to play the part: