Video game adaptations have always been a dodgy prospect, who can forget Van Damme’s Streetfighter or the horrible Mario Brothers movie (no matter how hard we try), but transforming the Tomb Raider game into a movie always seemed like an easy prospect to me, it’s basically sexy Indiana Jones so how can you screw that up? Well with three movies featuring the amazing Lara Croft it’s apparent that even with what looks to be a sure fire premise there is still the ability to drop the ball.
In 2013 the video game company Square Enix rebooted the Tomb Raider game with a darker tone than what could be found in previous entries in the series, one that kind of works as a prequel to the strong self-assured Lara Croft we’ve all come to know and love. Now in 2018 director Roar Uthaug takes that same aesthetic for his reboot of the Tomb Raider movie franchise; no longer is Lara Croft sparring with robots within the bowels of Croft Manor, now she’s practicing mix martial arts in a city gym ( a place that she can barely afford to pay her membership fees), and working as a bike messenger/delivery girl. But hold on, isn’t Lara Croft supposed to be stupidly wealthy? Well apparently Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) refuses to acknowledge that her father is dead, he went missing seven years on some secret mission to investigate the tomb of a supposedly powerful and mythical Chinese Queen, and because she won’t sign the “Death in Absentia ” papers she lives practically the life of a street urchin.
For me penniless Lara Croft was a thing the film needed a little more time explaining as it simply makes no sense that sole the heir to a billion dollar company, with holdings that span the globe, somehow can’t afford her gym membership. Even if Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) wasn’t able to be declared legally dead there would surely be money set aside in some kind of trust to take care of his daughter. If we are to believe that the whole thing is about Lara not taking the money because she refuses to believe her father is dead, well that is simply moronic, and it gives her a character trait less believable than her ability to survive leaps from raging rapids and rusted out WWII bombers.
Alicia Vikander is quite good as the spunky and courageous Lara Croft, and she sells the hell out of the action set-pieces, but sadly the plot they stick her with isn’t only weak but also not all that original. Not to get into too much spoiler territory but basically Lara discovers a secret room that contains all her father’s research about Himiko, the mythical Queen of Yamatai, who he believed would, if ever released, could very well end life on Earth. In a video message left for Lara our good Lord Croft tells his daughter to destroy all his research notes so that an evil militant organization known as Trinity cannot get their global conquering mitts on them. Lara of course doesn’t destroy the notes but instead takes her father’s diary to China where she will team up with Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), the son of the sea captain who also disappeared seven years ago with her father, and the two of them will take the same ill-fated trip to a mysterious island located in the dangerous waters of the Devil’s Sea to hopefully find their lost parents.
When they reach the island Lara runs into the villainous Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) who works for Trinity and apparently murdered both Lara’s as well as Ren’s father and for seven years Vogel has been stuck on this island because without Richard Croft’s notes he has been unable to find the tomb of Himiko. His evil employers don’t even give him vacation days so he and his mercenary buddies have been spending all their time blowing up parts of the island in the futile hope of stumbling upon the tomb, you could almost say they’d “Use a bulldozer to find a china cup.” Now we all know that Lara Croft is very much cut from the same cloth as a certain globetrotting adventurer but in this movie the plot similarities to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade are a little too on the nose.
• Professor Henry Jones was obsessed with the Holy Grail.
• Lord Richard Croft was obsessed with the mythical Chinese queen Himiko.
• Nazis wanted the power of the Grail.
• The evil Illuminati type group known as Trinity wants the rumored power of Himiko.
• Indiana Jones goes in search of his father not really caring about the Grail.
• Lara Croft goes in search of her father not really caring about the myth of Himiko.
• Indiana Jones basically hands his father’s crucial diary to the Nazis.
• Lara Croft basically hands over her father’s crucial diary to Trinity.
This is certainly not the worst video game adaptation, and parts of the film I quite enjoyed, but once Lara and company arrive at the island it becomes a bit of a “paint by numbers” action film with not much of a plot to hang those cool action sequences on. Fans of the game will certainly get a kick out of watching Lara Croft run through the jungle, dispatching villains with her now trademark bow and arrows, and of course solving the standard video game puzzles (that sadly always frustrate the hell out of me when I try and play the game), but the average audience member may find themselves less than engaged. Now the one thing that is done remarkably well in this film is the gritty and brutal moments of Lara trying to survive her numerous life endangering encounters, one particular jungle fight with a rent-a-thug was particularly vicious, and so I do hope this film does well enough to warrant a sequel (the film heavily hints at an ongoing threat) and that Alicia Vikander gets another shot at playing Lara because I truly think she has the potential to be a very interesting action hero.
Tomb Raider (2018)
This was a fun enough adventure film, and certainly not as over-the-top as the two previous Tomb Raider movies were, but Warner Brothers really needs to not worry so much about mimicking elements of the game and instead work on plotting and character development.