ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Movies based on video games are something that I’m surprised Hollywood continues to try. First attempts in the early 90s barely followed the source material. As time went on, they proceeded to try harder, but still, the films only followed the source maybe 50% or so and often failed to give characters much depth beyond their one-dimensional game counterparts. (I give some credit to the first Hitman and Max Payne). In 2016, Hollywood tried again with two big releases: “Warcraft” and “Assassin’s Creed.” The former wasn’t any good and the latter was merely decent, but yet again both failed to critics, audiences, and box office returns. They fully embraced their respective games’ styles and source materials, but once again they didn’t provide good characters and both basically alienated anyone not in tune with games already. Now, here comes “Tomb Raider” leaping into theaters based on the excellent 2013 reboot of the game series. A good source material like that should make for a good movie, but everyone is naturally skeptical of course. Luckily, I bare positive feedback. Quite positive.
Image Credit: Warner Bros. / MGN
“Tomb Raider” successfully breaks the bad video game movie curse with a solid action thriller propelled by a well-crafted lead and a story backed by some real emotional connections, making for good entertainment for both video game fans and those looking for an adventure film that stands on its own. It may be the best video game film to date.
The plot revolves around Lara Croft, an orphan who desperately wants to know what happened to her father that disappeared 7 years prior on a mission to stop a terrorist group from locating a cursed tomb on an island hidden off Japan’s coast. It manages to follow the game’s plot close and the yet change much at the same time. Much of this change is for the better as a film. That change is the father/daughter dynamic between Lara and her missing father. This was absent from the game which relied more on the player's control for the character to create the relatability. The filmmakers wisely understood the need to change this since a film is a third person, observational experience. I was worried that this dynamic would hurt the film, however, since it has been done time and time before (even the first Tomb Raider attempt with Jolie back in 2001), but surprisingly it all worked better than expected and even went a route I didn’t anticipate.
The character of Croft is expertly handled by Alicia Vikander. She manages to create a charming strong female lead that doesn’t resort to making her aggressively unlikable (hello Katniss from “Hunger Games”) or like some superhero that is good at everything (hello Rey from “Star Wars”). She is strong, but vulnerable. She is a little cocky, but not snobby. Plus, she realistically has no real knowledge of surviving a deserted island or an army of marooned, desperate mercenaries. She is a believable hero.
The action is well staged with some scenes that manage to be just as thrilling as they are great to look at. The pacing is spot on, never making for a dull moment. The film’s style is more realistic and grounded in nature than most video game translations, outside of the occasional backbreaking moment of anti-physics. However, those moments are true to the game so it’s not a complaint. Tomb Raider games are known for their mythical elements and the film manages to find a clever way to balance mysticism and gritty reality very well.
There are still some hiccups I have. The villains are played out well for the most part, but they could have been fleshed out more. Walton Goggins does a good job as he usually does at playing the head baddie, who does have a realistic anchor to crimes (marooned on an island by a terrorist cell away from his family). However, his group “Trinity” doesn’t really have much presence. They are just sort of necessary antagonists that could have had more development given to them. It doesn’t help that we really never see the real leaders of this secret Illuminati-like group throughout the film. Another issue is the sequel bait ending. I am getting really tired of this occurring in everything. This is the first film, therefore you should just make a film with a clear-cut beginning, middle, and end. Setting up another film at the end doesn’t justify you making another one. You earn that right if A) you make a good film and B) it makes bank. You succeeded on the first, but don’t take bets on the latter. It’s frustrating, but not because of the groan of more. It’s actually the fear that we may not even get a sequel to this because of everyone still being crazy over “Black Panther” (it’s seriously time to move on from that now).
I want another “Tomb Raider” film. Whether that will happen is unknown. What is known is that they have set up a good foundation with this one if they are able to. Alicia Vikander is Lara Croft through and through and it would be nice to see her character go further. The best thing about this film is that it works on its own. You don’t need to play the game to like it. The fan service is there, but not in your face. Everything is explained well (as an adventure story, the film benefits from having exposition feel necessary to the plot). This awakens the possibility of many good video game films to come....hopefully that is. “Tomb Raider” is the first time I can truly say without hesitation that it is actually a really good movie that happens to be based on a video game. It’s no masterpiece, but in the video game genre, it may as well be one compared to the competition.