TL;DR
  • The first actually half-decent videogame movie
  • Inspired by the game, more than just a copy of the story
  • Some original additions refresh the story for those who have played the game
  • Other original additions feel more like Indiana Jones rip-offs
  • Action is enjoyable and well-done (unlike many other videogame movies)
  • Vikander is a great Lara Croft
  • The villain is a bit too bland

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Videogame movies are always bad. It’s a classic rule that people have picked up on over the last 20 years or so. Sometimes the story doesn’t necessarily translate well to the big screen; they try to be too faithful an adaptation; the action just doesn’t work when you’re a passive consumer; or they’re just badly made films, created solely for easy money. Nevertheless, there was a certain excitement for Tomb Raider, and with every passing trailer and poster, there seemed to be a glimmer of hope. ‘Would this be the first actually decent videogame movie?’ we all asked. So does it break the trend? Fortunately, on the whole, yes – this is the first videogame movie that isn’t bad. It’s still far from the quality of the game on which it’s based, but there’s lots to enjoy and celebrate. Largely because, unlike tragic videogame movies before, Tomb Raider is not pretending to be the game.

After a clichéd opening scene giving us the basic exposition of the film’s primary Macguffin, we start with more backstory than the 2013 game; 21 year-old Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), bitter at the loss of her father (Dominic West) and refusing to accept he’s really dead, is aimless and independent in a boring courier job. It’s only when she discovers a trail left by her father after he went searching for the mysterious Himiko on the remote island of Yamatai that she travels to Hong Kong in search for him. After finding the Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), the son of the man who journeyed with her father, they set sail for Yamatai, eventually sailing into a storm and finding themselves stranded on the island. They’re not alone on the island, however, and soon Lara finds herself face to face with Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), a ruthless man determined to find Himiko and who has answers to her father’s fate.

The story itself isn’t necessarily a direct adaptation from the 2013 reboot Tomb Raider. Instead the Tomb Raider film takes inspiration from the game and bases the story on its ideas, but the story itself is not identical. This difference is a double-edged sword with both positive and negative results. On one hand, the beginning of the film gives more personality to Lara’s character, allowing us to delve deeper into her backstory than the game. It gives us more time to learn who Lara is before she sets off on her adventure and this is a strong point of the film. Other differences are particularly worthwhile since they make the film’s story much more interesting for those who have already completed the game, even to 100% completion (humble-brag). Even Himiko, the Macguffin herself, is different, keeping the whole movie fresh.

On the other hand, however, there are parts of Tomb Raider that come across more as references to its source game, such as the plane and parachute sequence. Still, these are still enjoyable moments. One larger issue that derives from deviating from the original story though is that some “original” elements of the plot instead come straight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; there’s an argument about not burning a diary with notes in; there’s a scene in which tiles from the ground fall, letting the victims fall to their death. Minor issues aside, the plot overall works well. It’s a typical action-adventure with a macguffin or two at its centre – but I love those stories, growing up on a diet of Tintin and Indiana Jones. The biggest criticism regarding the story is the shameless setting up of a sequel; at least that’s only in the final few minutes though.

The Lara Croft games however were never intended to be primarily about story – they were for action; be it combat, gymnastics or endless wall-climbing, pole-swinging and jumping. As it goes, the action in the Tomb Raider film is better than we’ve come to expect from videogame movies. So many have silly action scenes trying too hard to replicate the gameplay, adding in some cinematic slow-mo to make it seem like a spectacle but ending up making it ridiculous and laughable. Here though the action it totally fit for film and is done well. There are still action-oriented elements taken directly from the game that stand out somewhat, but not as drastically as you might think; scaling cliff walls, frantically climbing up a crumbling wall with a climbing axe, convenient ‘monkey bars’ falling into place when trying to escape a capsizing ship. Though originating from the game, they don’t feel too out of place in the film.

Alicia Vikander makes a very good Lara Croft all in all. As you’d hope from an Oscar-winning actress, she lends some more believability to the character and makes her consistently likable. It laughs at the awful Angelina Jolie films; there’s just no comparison. Although fierce and independent, there’s an innocent streak to her in the beginning that soon becomes a hardened, steely determination. More than that, like the reboot game itself, Vikander doesn’t need to strip down to a scanty costume – she’s a beauty with brains and that makes her all the stronger. She’s certainly the star of the film, but there’s a decent supporting cast with her father and Lu Ren, but it’s a shame not enough was given to Goggins’ antagonist. His performance is charismatic and enigmatic enough for him to be a competent villain, but there’s nothing special and memorable about him, other than a fairly comical name.

On the face of it, Tomb Raider isn’t ground-breaking stuff. It’s a competent, enjoyable enough blockbuster; a decent popcorn flick, but still hasn’t got anything on the likes of Indiana Jones. Still, this is the first time a movie based on a videogame hasn’t been flat out bad – so perhaps there’s more to praise here than you may think. And judging by the end, a sequel will soon be on the horizon. Let’s hope Lara can hit an even bigger target next time out.

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