March 17, 2018
I like video games. I don’t often lay down my hard earned money on them, mostly because I’m so bad at them that it typically takes me over a year to complete a single game. Last Christmas, Rise of the Tomb Raider was the first game I ever popped into my brand new Playstation 4. I had only dabbled in old PlayStation 1 Tomb Raider games before and didn’t care too much for them, but Square Enix’s reboot was an entirely different beast. This was a rich, lush, grounded, incredibly fun game that amazingly balanced serious and campy. Soon I was exploring what more Lara Croft’s world had to offer, and all of a sudden I was a fan.
The new movie version of Tomb Raider isn’t the first time we’ve seen Lara Croft on screen. The previous Angelina Jolie films have their fair share of fans, but this is the first time we get to see a more grounded, less sexualized Lara come into her own, led none other by Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander.
Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is a fiercely independent young woman living in London, working for a food delivery service, and moonlighting as a boxer. What all of her friends don’t know is that she is the heiress to missing billionaire Richard Croft (Dominic West), presumed dead. Receiving a puzzle from her father in his will, Lara discovers with it that her father, a archeological explorer, was searching for an island off the coast of Japan called Yamatai, home to the tomb of an evil force known as Himiko. Believing her father is still alive, Lara travels to Yamatai, where she discovers the evil forces of the corporation known as Trinity, seeking to open the tomb for their own sinister purpose. Soon captured, Lara must escape from Trinity’s grasp, and prevent them from wreaking havoc on the world before it’s too late.
As a fan of the games, I wanted the film to bridge the gap between the two major discrepancies that plague video game to film adaptations: 1) playing it too close to the games, losing cinematic heft in the process, and 2) Straying so far from the game for cinematic effect that the essence of the game is lost. While it’s not a play-by-play adaption of the 2013 game, Tomb Raider finds a much healthier and more satisfying middle ground between the two discrepancies than most of video game movies. Tomb Raider still stands on its own two feet just fine.
That doesn’t mean it’s perfect by any means, if only because the film does tread familiar, often better territory. A lot of the different vibes that Tomb Raider puts across that reminds us of other films; it’s one part The Hunger Games, one part Indiana Jones, and one part The Mummy. But it somehow meshes. Director Roar Uthaug has a good eye for a lot of this, like we saw in The Wave two years ago. His direction, and hopeful retainment in the series, certainly makes me excited for a Rise of the Tomb Raider sequel.
One of my personal fears going into the film was that Vikander would not be the Lara Croft that I wanted. Playing the games, I envisioned Daisy Ridley long before I ever even considered Vikander, if only for Ridley’s near perfect match and proven gravitas in action films previously. A big fan of Vikander’s work, I was afraid that it wouldn’t be the genre for her to thrive in, and I was so wrong. Vikander might not look exactly like the rebooted Lara Croft in the same way that Jolie was in the previous series, but Vikander brings a vulnerability and heart to the character that the film really needs. Vikander’s Croft isn’t a perfect hero. She’s stubborn, naïve, inexperienced, and frightened, with only the hope of finding her father keeping her going. It’s a surprisingly human approach to such a cool character that pays off immensely.
This new Tomb Raider series is starting off with a strong showing for both Vikander in the lead role and for Uthaug as a Hollywood film director. Like many “first films” in franchises, now that the obligatory origin story has come and gone, the possibilities for growth and refinement have just begun. Tomb Raider is stylish, incredibly fun, and while it’s a bit derivative of a few other films that have come before it, it’s a rousing adaption of the game that respects the series just as much as it seeks to grow on it. I don’t expect other video game adaptations to magically become good just because this one is, but dammit, it’s a great first step.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5