Film Reviews

Film Review: Tomb Raider Fails to Solve the Video Game Movie Curse

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.

As with his prior film The Wave, Norwegian director Roar Uthaug shows he is very good at handling aquatic action scenes.

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 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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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:


  1. It was an okay film. I enjoyed in a “this is a bad film” way that kept me laughing. Let me explain:
    1) whenever a villain cocks his gun, especially after watching so much Walking Dead, I kind of know they won’t shoot. Hench I laughed.
    2) Lara finds the only Chinese-American in Hong Kong and therefore we get an angle to sell to the huge Chinese market
    3) the villain kept talking about how he has had no one to talk to for the last 7 years… while there are guy’s walking behind his tent. Then outside there are initially only Chinese people, the henchmen then speak English.

    It was really predictable. I knew:
    1) Kristin Scott Thomas was going to be a villain when she was so disappointed Lara wouldn’t sign.
    2) Lara’s dad was going to die as soon as he showed up. I just wish they had the courage to make the Asian male a romantic lead. That doesn’t happen often enough.
    3) Lara’s flashback would cause a crash.

    At least they made more effort to establish the father-daughter relationship than Rogue One.

    The group I went with really loved it and I wonder how much of that was people not wanting to sound negative. Lara was really modernly attractive and reminds me of a teammate I had a crush on.

    1. “the villain kept talking about how he has had no one to talk to for the last 7 years… while there are guy’s walking behind his tent.”

      I know. And it’s not just the one time. He does that bit at least twice, and every time I kept thinking of “I’m All Alone” from Spamalot, a king singing about the loneliness of his quest while his noble, always nearby squire looks more and more upset, thinking, “Dude, I’m right fucking here!” I have to imagine that after 7 years whenever he trots out that old line his henchman just roll their eyes and maybe do the “playing the world’s smallest violin” motion behind his back.

      “2) Lara finds the only Chinese-American in Hong Kong and therefore we get an angle to sell to the huge Chinese market”

      Darn. I meant to mention him in the review but forgot, but I thought the same thing. The bottom line truth is whenever a character like that pops up in a movie like this the “They needed to appeal to China” light immediately goes off in our heads now. I was surprised, too, that he didn’t turn into a love interest by the end. I’ve written about this in the past in relation to the MCU, but now that movies are modeled more after TV shows than actual standalone stories there’s more of a tendency to slow-roll romance and not tack-on kisses to endings anymore. Save that for the sequel, if ever at all, seems to be the mindset. Still, those two worked well together.

      “At least they made more effort to establish the father-daughter relationship than Rogue One.”

      That was actually my favorite part of the film. I also guessed the dad was dead meat from the get-go, but this story at least provided some emotion and is not actually in the 2013 game.

      “The group I went with really loved it and I wonder how much of that was people not wanting to sound negative.”

      I’ve seen several thinkpieces arguing the fact that Tomb Raider is just average, at best, is a sign of progress because it means a female-led movie was made and it didn’t absolutely have to be the best thing ever or some kind of cultural moment. It just had to be a diverting two hours of entertainment.

      1. 1) I still haven’t seen Spamalot but I still haven’t watched all of the MP Box Set… however I have played with the Black Knight figure with removable limbs.

        I don’t think there was enough of the villain to suggest that he was so much loftier than the henchmen. Maybe if they had hired a bigger name such as Jeremy Irons or Anthony Hopkins, who both have done ham to pay for their kids’ and grandkids’ college funds… the villain’s implied superiority would be implied.

        2) the Jon Voight father died in the Angelina Jolie one so I wasn’t surprised. Also she needed to inherit everything.

        Nick Frost was my favourite part and his character’s wife.

        Other things that irritated me very mildly:
        1) zombie virus
        2) boat operator is better at killing people than professional goons (I know… It’s the Stormtrooper effect)
        3) no scene with tetanus shots before adventure
        4) surviving the storm

        It’s an average but enjoyable movie. I didn’t set my expectations high. It fulfilled it’s purpose.

      2. 1) To be fair, I also haven’t seen Spamalot, at least not in person. I’ve listened to the soundtrack and a friend showed me a bootlegged recording of the original cast on Broadway.

        2) Walton Goggins is maybe a testament to the limits of critical success in the age of PeakTV. He was so good on Justified that he arguably stole the show from the ostensible main character. Before that, he practically did the same opposite Michael Chiklis on The Shield. So, to a certain nerd sector Goggins popping up in anything is cause for celebration. But how many actually watched those shows? Who actually recognized him when he showed up in the final Maze Runner movie earlier this year? And who really cared that he was the villain in a Tomb Raider movie? Because he comes from such a prestige TV background, I felt like that same note they hit over and over again about him having gone slightly mad over the 7 years and somewhat sympathetically motivated by his desire to see his daughters again was the kind of thing they wrote in or expanded upon after casting to give him something more to do.

        I take your point about maybe they should have just paid up to older actors who could ham it up or maybe someone like Gary Oldman, but in their defense that’s absolutely opposite the tone they were going for. Right or wrong, they were totally going for a Batman Begins-gritty tone, and Goggins’ performance is more in line with that, even if his madness/despair sometimes oddly comes off more like Ben Carson-esque narcolepsy.

        “Nick Frost was my favourite part and his character’s wife.”

        I wonder if they were added in reshoots or anything like that, simply because their two scenes are so opposite in tone to the rest of the film. Either way, I welcomed the comic relief. I’m just sad their second scene is tacked on as mid-credits moment.

        “1) zombie virus”

        The same kind of thing happens in the game, and even though it’s a video game I remember being thrown/annoyed by the sudden switch in genre from fighting against these heavily armed archaeologists dicks to fighting off supernatural baddies and zombies.

        “It’s an average but enjoyable movie. I didn’t set my expectations high. It fulfilled it’s purpose.”

        Agreed. Perfect summation.

      3. Another thought I had often through the film was very positive: the writers took the effort to set things up e.g. Lara knowing how to shoot arrows well, being exposed to puzzles via her dad leaving them around.

      4. All of the sudden this reminds me of the “Throw me the idol” scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.
        I gotta confess that it took me years to realise Alfred Molina portrayed both Satipo and Doc Ock.

    1. “For some reason, I’m kind of surprised that you play video-games…”

      It’s more like I played them in a former life. I’m a Super Nintendo kid who graduated to the Playstation and Playstation 2 in my tweens/teens. I bought a PS3 with money from one of my first jobs out of college, and I do have a PS4 now with games like GTA5, Injustice Gods Among Us 2, Uncharted 4, Batman: Arkham Knight, Friday the 13th: The Game, and Last of Us: Remastered. But I don’t have much time for them anymore. The last games I finished from beginning to end were probably the Tomb Raiders I referenced in the review and Far Cry 3. My nephew uses my PS4 more than I do now, which is why Minecraft is easily the most played game on the machine.

      I did really, really love that 2013 Tomb Raider game, though. It’s the reason I saw the movie.

    1. Yeah, from Super Mario Bros. to Tomb Raider there’s been a vast degree of improvement. Tomb Raider proves video game movies don’t have to suck, but it also fails to prove that video game movies can also be genuinely amazing. Instead, we kind of just have a fairly serviceable live-action re-telling of one of the games, which even maintains the cut-scene quality of the game where at times you wish you had a controller or a VR screen to tell Vikander where to go or how far to jump.

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