Video game movies aren’t exactly known for their quality. One look at recent forays into the genre such as Warcraft or Assassin’s Creed provides all the evidence we need to back that up. Despite this, we’re still seeing attempt after attempt to capitalize on these franchises, with the most recent being Square Enix’s Tomb Raider. The publisher has been quite successful with the franchise reboot in game form, but how does the transition to the big screen hold up?
Tomb Raider is a theatrical version of Crystal Dynamics’ 2013 reboot of the franchise and as such is the theatrical reboot of the Angelina Jolie-era movies. Alicia Vikander stars as a young, down on her luck Lara Croft who finds herself wrapped up a journey to find her father. Despite his position as head of a vast business empire, Lord Richard Croft had a secret life saving the world from an evil organization known as Trinity. Seven years prior to the events of the movie, Richard Croft suddenly vanished due to this work, leaving his legacy to Lara who wants nothing to do with it. Only upon accepting that her father isn’t coming back does Lara discover this secret life and set out on a journey to find him.
Lara’s journey takes her to the island of Yamatai, where she meets Mathias Vogel, a Trinity employee searching for the tomb of the Death Queen, Himiko. If all of these names sound familiar, that’s because they’re lifted straight out of the game. But that’s about the extent of the similarity to the game. While the game focuses on the Solarii Brotherhood, a cult of survivors searching for a successor to inherit Himiko’s soul, the movie ignores them completely in favor of Trinity. Himiko is said to bring death to those around her, and Trinity sees an opportunity to use her as a weapon to control the world.
While this motivates the antagonist’s actions, Lara is motivated by survival and the desire to find out what happened to her father. Tomb Raider decides to focus on this relationship and tells its story from this perspective. I can’t say I agree with this choice, mostly because we’re given no reason to really care all that much. All we’re presented with about Richard Croft is that he was never really around for Lara’s childhood, always running off on “business trips.” It’s hard to buy into the idea that he is an important figure in Lara’s life when all we have to go off of are flashbacks of him leaving. This emphasis also ruins what could’ve been an extremely important characterization moment for Lara midway through the movie, which I still haven’t been able to forgive.
Vikander is without question the star of the show. She takes on the role of Lara quite nicely, transforming her from a softer, young woman to the badass heroine we know and love. I’m more torn on Walton Goggins’ performance as Mathias, though I feel this may be due to the writing rather than Goggins himself. Despite being the film’s main antagonist, there’s nothing that makes him very memorable. Mathias is nothing more than a pawn in Trinity’s schemes, making it hard to see him as an actual threat at times. However, there are some rare circumstances where Mathias’ actions make him come across as borderline insane, and it is in these moments where he shines.
Tomb Raider does is revolutionary; in fact, it’s quite the opposite, reminding me heavily of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Everything I saw in the film is already a staple of the genre. Gorgeous set pieces? Check. Trap-filled dungeon? You betcha. Fun action sequences? Of course. Despite all these cliches, or perhaps because of them, I found real enjoyment in watching Tomb Raider. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but if you can get past its flaws, there’s some real fun to be had.
Tomb Raider is out now in theaters nationwide.
Alicia Vikander steals the show as Lara Croft; Gorgeous set pieces; Genre cliches feel right at home; Lots of references to the previous franchise entries, both game and film
Largely forgettable villain; Weak plot motivation; Key moments of characterization ruined by bad design choices