‘Tomb Raider’ might be the movie that breaks the video game movie curse
When a video game is adapted to film, most of the time it doesn’t gain much success. While some of the video game-to-film adaptations like Mortal Kombat and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Timemanaged to earn some respect among video game fans and viewers, other films like Double Dragon, Street Fighter, and the infamous Super Mario Bros. failed and are some of the worst of their kind. Even director Uwe Boll’s filmography is comprised of trashy, uninspired wastes of video game to movie ideas with films like Bloodrayne, House of the Dead, and Alone in the Dark among others.
While the past Tomb Raider films starring Angelina Jolie were certainly successful for their genre, they were definitely a product of their time. The Tomb Raider franchise at this point was in its infancy with the original Tomb Raider games released in the 1990s. This remake directed by Roar Uthaug manages to somewhat successfully find its own mold by focusing on the strong female character of Lara Croft and following pretty closely to the source material of 2013’s Tomb Raider. Still, most of the plot seems ludicrous while sporting messy CGI in certain scenes.
A somewhat adapted story
The plot focuses on a 20-something Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) trying to earn her living in London, England after her father Richard Croft (Dominic West) disappeared seven years ago. After she gets into some trouble, Lara’s father’s business partner gives her a proposition to sign off on the death of her father so that she can gain the inheritance of the Croft estate. She reluctantly agrees and soon learns from going into her father’s office that her father was doing research on the ancient Japanese queen Himiko, who ruled over the island of Yamatai and had the power to control life and death. Lara decides to investigate further, seeking the remains of Himiko against her father’s final request to destroy his research.
The first 20 or so minutes feel like filler. While it does introduce the character of Lara Croft through her daily routine working as a food delivery courier, it doesn’t provide any hints to her personal relationships with friends and coworkers since these characters fall by the wayside. The story picks up pace once she gets herself acquainted with a drunken Chinese fisherman named Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) who agrees to help Lara on her journey by providing a boat called the Endurance that will take them to Yamatai.
Once we get into the meat of the movie with Lara arriving on the island, the movie keeps a fast and steady pace. Fans of 2013’s Tomb Raider can easily recognize the tone that the movie is trying to match: Lara Croft stranded on a mysterious island trying to survive while shooting down enemies with her bow and arrow. Does it provide an action-packed experience? Sure, for the most part.
While the movie manages to follow the story of the game that is loosely based on, it frustrates with some plot holes that almost ruin the experience for me. Particularly, one aspect of the story is that the movie’s main villain doesn’t check to see if he killed an important character who shows up later in the story. Still, it does provide some emotional and heartbreaking moments for Lara Croft while providing some surprising good scares towards the second half of the film. I also like how the film implements some references to 2013’s Tomb Raider, like the reasoning of how Lara Croft got the jade necklace she wore in the game.
Strong and engaging characters
When a movie studio tries to adapt a video game into a movie, they always run into some problems. One is that they try to deviate from the source material and create a new story that casual movie viewers will see, which alienates the hardcore fans of the video game series. Or they try to follow too closely to the source material without developing or establishing the characteristics of the characters that the movie is trying to accomplish. But Tomb Raider (2018) manages to create likable characters, even if they aren’t characterized well.
Lara Croft is easily the strongest and most likable character in this film. She is able to show determination and grief through her combat and survival skills as she works through her struggle to find the artifact in Yamatai while honoring her father’s legacy. Lu Ren also gets some interesting depth that affects the story in some fashion. Despite being the unsure type of character who’s only concerned for his and Lara’s safety when they go to Yamatai, he actually comes off as being headstrong and loyal to Lara. He is able to hold his own in a firefight and has history with Lara since his father helped Lara’s father get onto the island in the past.
The only less interesting character is the main villain Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). While he does emit a dark, wicked presence, his motivation is lackluster to say the least. His only goal for being on Yamatai is to retrieve the tomb of Himiko for his employers, a secret organization named Trinity, so that he can finally go home to see his family. While his reasoning does make some logical sense, his lack of belief in the supernatural makes him a one-note character.
The visuals for this movie could easily be described as exciting but very sloppy. It felt like director Roar Uthaug had some ideas of displaying the set pieces in wide shots by saying “yeah, we can use these with our cool CGI, but let’s also throw in some unnecessary slow-mo shots. It’ll be just like the game.” I find this frustrating because, while a lot of the shots are are filmed beautifully with the action and fight scenes, other times the CGI just takes you out of it. It will make you wonder how Lara Croft can survive throughout all of the set pieces without breaking any bones and only gets one minor wound from a parachute crash.
The music is good for what it’s trying to accomplish. It provides some exciting musical beats that might remind you of Indiana Jones, but doesn’t copy its style or try to recreate it. It’s serviceable for how it’s placed in the movie without being overly dramatic or cartoony.
Overall, the new Tomb Raider is the one video game movie that does a decent job of taking the subgenre in the right direction. It fails in the departments of style, cinematography, and plot. It’s far from being a complete disappointment though, as it is superb in its characters and lore and manages to be a thrilling ride. While it is not the best video game movie ever made, you will certainly have a good time when you come out of the theater. Just don’t set your expectations too high for this one.
Featured image from YouTube
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