Photo: IMDB

Tomb Raider, The Video Game Film They (Sort Of) Got Right

As a nineties child, I spent a great deal of my money, and an even greater deal of my time, on the Tomb Raider games. We loved the games because they were fun and walked the perfect balance difficult puzzles and great action. I remember being disappointed in both 2001 and 2003 – with the release of the first two Tomb Raider films (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life). While these films were entertaining and highly stylized, the films were unmemorable. And they lacked the genuine qualities which made the games so damn good.

Film’s based upon video games have always sucked, and the bar is set perpetually low. Whether we were watching Resident Evil, Doom, Silent Hill, or Hitman; regardless of how great the gaming franchises have been, these films have all turned out to be disappointing. Part of the reason is, that video game inspired films have, and always will have, the challenge of condensing a story told via twenty-six of hours of game play into a two-hour feature film. This is not an easy task. But Tomb Raider shows us how it is not as difficult as we previously imagined.

Spoilers throughout.

The film is the story of a young Lara Croft struggling to survive. After a well filmed and entertaining but irrelevant bicycle chase scene, Lara finds herself face-to-face with her Guardian Anna. Anna convinces Lara she must come to terms with the fact that her father is dead, agree to inherit his property, and accept her destiny as a Croft. In doing so Lara finds the key to her father’s secret office and beings her quest – finding out what happened to her father. This takes up a larger portion of the film than it should.

Lara learns that her father, Lord Richard, has been pursuing the hidden Tomb of Himiko, a deceased witch Queen of Japan. In pursuit of her father, and to find what really happened to him, Lara decides to venture into an abandoned island in the middle of the Dragons Triangle to find him. Once on the island, Lara finds that a secret paramilitary society has fortified the island and has been using slave labor to search for the Tomb. With the arrival of Lara, they take possession of her father’s notebook, and find the secret location of the Tomb. Lara is sent to work as a slave, escapes, kicks ass, and finds that her missing, thought-dead father still lives on the island. For the last seven years Richard has been working to ensure that the villains never reach the entrance to the Tomb. This is all entertaining – as Lara parkour’s through the jungle and bow-hunts mercenaries.

Eventually Lara’s father is caught. While he pleads with Lara not to agree to open the Tomb of Himiko as it threatens the safety of the world, she ignores him. She already lost him once and refuses to lose him again. This is where the movie truly becomes the Tomb Raider we know and love. Lara, her father, and the team of evil mercenaries enter the Tomb, where Lara must use her wit and acrobatics to navigate the boobytraps. Deep inside the Tomb, her and her father decide to prevent the curse of Himiko from falling into the wrong hands. There is some fighting, and we see that Miss. Croft has grown into a full on bad-ass. Lara’s father sacrifices himself for the greater good and inspires his daughter to take up his mantel of protecting the world.

The film ends with what is essentially the ultimate fan service, Lara purchasing her two silver, USP Match pistols – her signature weapons of choice.

The best part about the film is the character of Lara Croft. Alicia Vikander does a fantastic job of breathing life into the character. Not only does Vikander look virtually identical to the recent imagination of Lara in the games, but she captures that character strength and grit as well. She makes that character real and relatable, as she experiences fear, pain, regret, and remorse. As the film progresses, we see Lara grow into the strong and capable heroine we have come to know throughout the games.

The decision to include Lord Richard Croft is also a smart move. He is the largest influence in the characters life, her driving force and inspiration, yet he is never completely explored as he could be in the franchise. By including him in the film, we see him repeatedly challenge and shape Lara’s character.

The film shares many similarities with the 2013 game (also titled Tomb Raider). While the story is condensed and that cast of characters is reduced, both feature a young Lara traveling to a mysterious island in the Dragons Tringle where the Himiko is buried. Unlike the game – and virtually every other game in the series – this movie foregoes the “supernatural elements” which have become a staple of the Tomb Raider franchise. Instead, the story focuses upon the fact at the heart of every myth. While some die-hard fans might find this disappointing, this decision does help ground the film in reality and broadens the appeal to the masses.

I think that the filmmakers made a terrible mistake by telling an origins story. To begin with a majority of the people purchasing tickets to the film have had some exposure to the character and the franchise, either through the two previous films or the near twenty games. Most people know, at least a little bit, about the character of Lara. I think most of these fans would have been better served with another one of the many tales of the “adventures of Lara Croft. This also would have just made the film better. We could have ditched the first third of the film and got to see what we really wanted to see – Lara hunting for artifacts. The movies ends setting up for the sequel and, as an audience, we cannot help feeling like that is where we wanted to being this story all along.

My biggest complaint has to be the abundant use of CGI. I understand that it was easier and cheaper to create exotic booby-trapped tombs and portray death-defying stunts with computers; but at times with so much CGI in the film I found myself thinking, “why make this film with actors at all? After all, this is a film about a CGI character.”

Yes, there are many similarities in the story which parallel that of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But then again, isn’t Lara Croft just a female version of Indiana Jones? Essentially. Plus, there is enough of a difference between the characters that the two stories do not feel identical. The point is, this film will not change your life. This film will not win any major awards. This film will not be preserved by the Library of Congress for its historical significance.

But, this film is fun.

It is an entertaining action-adventure film. So, if you are looking to have a good time, then the film will not disappoint. And while I seriously doubt that we will ever have a film which truly does its gaming source material justice; Tomb Raider suggests that we are making great strides. I am looking forward to the sequel, and you should too.