It has been a long held belief that mainstream video game to film adaptations are cursed to fail. Since the infamous balls up Super Mario Bros. to last year’s muddled Assassin’s Creed, the list of movies that failed to translate the material onscreen is endless and there has yet to be a major studio film based on a video game to enjoy widespread acclaim. Now, obviously, some of us may have different ideas of what has and has not worked so far, for instance I consider Duncan Jones’ Warcraft: The Beginning to be the best video game film yet – it’s a good old fashioned axe swing spell casting fantasy yarn despite the bad reviews saying otherwise. One thing is for sure though, the wait for a big success goes on. So will the newly rebooted Tomb Raider (which is unrelated to the two previous Angelina Jolie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider films) be that success? Not quite but it is an enjoyable stab at it.
Looking at Lara’s younger years and taking influence from the rougher and tougher video game outings for the legendary character, most prominently 2013’s Tomb Raider, this new film sees Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) looking to make her own way without taking over the multi-million dollar family industry Croft Holdings. Refusing to believe her long lost father (who vanished when she was a girl) is deceased, she sees taking over the family business as admitting he is gone forever but maybe it is finallt time to let go? That is until she unexpectedly uncovers the true nature of her father’s archaeological activities and finds there was way more to his work than she ever knew. This discovery throws her into an adventure across the seas, where she hopes to locate her father but soon finds more than she anticipated, as she must fight to survive the harsh environment, mystical powers and some mysterious new enemies with their own agenda.
Tomb Raider unlike many other video game adaptations actually feels like one of the games it is drawing from. Many sequences, be it an early bicycle scene, a bag thief chase or the stormy sea boating set piece, feel like actual video game cut-scenes or side missions and seeing Croft leaping from rusty plane wings atop a raging waterfall or parachuting through vast wooded areas feels, finally, like the fearless adventurer that joystick jostlers have been waiting for. There are some genuinely well assembled and rather exciting action scenes dotted throughout and thanks to a reasonably pulse racing score by Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL), which uses similar tones to his magnificent work on Mad Max Fury Road, it all feels quite consistently exciting.
It is also a big plus point that Lara herself is very well represented, as the direction by Roar Uthaug drops the eye candy objectification in favour of grit and resilience, and Alicia Vikander makes for a brilliant Croft. Her lead is hopeful, powerful, rebellious and tough as steel tipped boots and if this were the start of more to come (as hinted at in a fan pleasing final shot) then I for one would be happy to see Vikander raid tombs once again. There is also some decent support by Daniel Wu as the heavy drinking young ship captain Lu Ren (whom escorts Lara overseas) and by Dominic West as Lara’s father Richard Croft. Sadly the villain is weak, in spite of some strong efforts by Walton Goggins, the character fails to pose a realistic threat to our hero or indeed come over as a rival worthy of the video game legend, though the film does hint at a potentially greater menace to come.
For what Tomb Raider does right, it is a shame that its plot is not very distinctive. Admittedly the journey is fun but the progression of events is very paint-by-numbers and the narrative a visible mish mash of origin movie tropes and practically most other cinematic adventurer yarns you have ever seen. The final stretch in particular seems to be very Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, while other moments throughout evoke scenes from the likes of Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy and some developments seem awfully similar to the Uncharted game series too (which ironically some accused of being too similar to the Tomb Raider games).
Still, while Tomb Raider is not an unforgettable action spectacle, it is a fun ride while it lasts, that gets Lara right and if the series is allowed to continue then we may have more in store for future instalments, now that the groundwork has been established.
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