The film industry has long tried to find a way to capture the spirit of video games with licensed movies. We are long past the days of movies created by people who don’t understand a property or why its popular. This doesn’t mean that movies based on video games are great movies now. It just means that they aren’t useless wastes of celluloid now. (especially since celluloid isn’t really used anymore). The Videogame conglomerates that own these franchises have a much more vested interest in how these movies turn out. Assassin’s Creed had owner Ubisoft taking creative control. This almost makes the movie a cannon part of the universe. Tomb Raider, which releases today in the US, even has Square Enix in the pre-credits roll of production companies.
Tomb Raider may be the most accurate video game movie in history. Long gone are the wireframe enhanced fight scenes of the previous movies. That’s hewing closer to the reboot series that Square Enix have been releasing these last few years. Lara is much less of a super hero in this installment. She’s more of the vulnerable yet determined young archeologist. If you’ve played the first Tomb Raider in the reboot continuity, you should feel right at home here. To be fair, there are a few changes to the plot that were necessary. They had to condense fifteen hours of gameplay into a two-hour movie, nothing to be mad about.
One of the biggest changes to the continuity is that Lara Croft starts out running from her inheritance. Her father disappeared while chasing the lost burial grounds of Queen Himiko. She is introduced in a grimy boxing gym. She’s sparring with another woman who is a much better fighter than poor Lara. After being forced to submit, she gets kicked out of the gym for non-payment. We are then shown that she is a bicycle delivery driver. She makes some deliveries, and has one client who is obviously in love with her.
In the games, it’s shown that she already has access to the Croft fortune. She’s using it to fund the expedition to the island where her father disappears. Through a scavenger hunt created by her father, she finds his secret basement. It’s not full of strange instruments of torture. Its a room that would look natural in one of those cop shows where all the pictures are connected by red string.
It turns out that her father was obsessed with finding the lost tomb of Queen Himiko. She was queen with the distinction of killing anyone she touched. This is where the game and the movie begin to collide. The overall plot from this point is similar. Lara charters an expedition. In the movie it’s just one drunk captain (in the game a group of scholars come along). They head off for an island in an area of ocean where numerous ships and planes have disappeared. The boat crashes and Lara finds herself having to survive. Survive not only the hostile environment, but a large group of insane homicidal locals as well.
Both the game and the movie deal with a young and inexperienced Lara Croft. She’s developing into the determined woman that she is meant to be. The video games heap a lot more trouble on their version of Lara. That’s due to the repetition of the game (how many river survival scenes does one game need?) and not really the plot. There are a lot of parallel scenes between the two. Most notably, a river scene toward a water fall that ends in a rusty B-52 that falls apart around her.
There are also a couple of large action scenes that seem like they aren’t far removed from a videogame. One of which has a short “stealth” section in the beginning. This perfectly captures the video game’s moment to moment gameplay. By the end of both the movie and the game, Lara is more hardened and capable than she was when the boat crashed.
Obviously, any changes made serve to make the movie coherent since there is no ability to explore or read lore on the island. The crazy cult from the game is changed to a world-wide conspiracy called Trinity who have sent a group to the island following Lara’s father and trying to find Himiko for their own nefarious plans. This not only reduces the amount of people that Lara must deal with, but also adds a group of captive labor that needs to be rescued (her boat captain “Asian Han Solo” is one of them).
None of these changes are bad, and fix one of the major problems that I had with the first game which was padding – there was always another person to save, or another camp that had to be gotten through. It makes the movie feel streamlined and without much fluff, telling the story in the most efficient way while still reaching the same end.
Alicia Vikander is good at playing Lara Croft, showing the determination to survive while still having some venerability. This is not the Angelina Jolie robotic killing machine from the other movies. There is a street-smart aspect to her character that seems to always be at the back of her actions. She’s always calculating, looking for the next threat. The Trinity leader, Mathias Vogel, is played by the always entertaining Walton Goggins who brings just the right amount of southern charm to his violent psychopath. He’s essentially playing the same character he played in Justified with the violent tendencies turned up a bit. Dominic West is fine as Lara’s Dad, Richard. He has a few scenes where he’s allowed to show some emotion other than obsession and in those quiet moments he steals the show.
The Tomb Raider Movie Overall
It’s weird to say this, but I would classify Tomb Raider as a good movie. There have been fun video game movies in the past. These were more enjoyable for unintentional humor and incompetence than actual craft or storytelling. Tomb Raider tells a gripping story. A woman taken out of her element and forced to survive in a hostile environment. It has characters with motivations and personalities instead of tropes or cardboard characters. Audiences can also sympathize with Lara. They’ll not only be rooting for her to win, but also on the edge of their seats wondering how she will win.
In the future, there is no doubt in my mind that Tomb Raider will become the template for other video game movies to follow. I just hope that it finds its audience and isn’t forgotten due to the video game movie stigma. This is a movie first, based on a video game second.
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