Like Lara Croft wading through a treacherous tomb, the new Tomb Raider film has a curse to destroy. Can it be one of the few good video game movies? And can it wash away the taste of those awful early 2000s Angelina Jolie films?
Starring Alicia Vikander as Lara, Tomb Raider channels the fantastic 2013 reboot of the classic action-adventure game, ditching the sassier, sexualized titles that inspired the older movies. The film thrusts Lara onto a deadly island as she chases down a powerful and mysterious artifact, overcoming no shortage of evil mercenaries, life-threatening set pieces, and daddy issues along the way.
It's a promising premise, but can it be the first great Lara Croft movie? Here's what our roundtable of gaming editors (and Tomb Raider fans) loved and hated.
Mike Andronico, Senior Editor
The Good: The folks behind Tomb Raider did two things very right: basing the film off of the game's superb 2013 reboot, and largely nailing the aesthetic of said game. From death-defying leaps to breathless chase scenes, every major set piece felt lifted right out of Crystal Dynamics' bombastic action romp. I couldn't help but smile whenever Lara busted out her signature bow-and-arrow, and I appreciated director Roar Uthaug's attempts to recreate the game's complex, trap-laden tombs on film.
Alicia Vikander is excellent as Lara Croft, delivering a slightly more rebellious and charming version of the grounded, vulnerable Lara we see in the new games. The film smartly ditches the game's loaded supporting cast and over-the-top occult themes, making it a tight action flick that still captures the spirit of what made Tomb Raider 2013 so great. If nothing else, watching Tomb Raider made me want to go home and play Tomb Raider, and I'd call that a victory.
The Bad: Despite some memorable action scenes, there are many times when Tomb Raider simply doesn't look great. I noticed a few moments of less-than-stellar special effects, and certain combat sequences fell completely flat due to awkward editing and bad lighting (seriously, this movie gets dark). Tomb Raider also retains one of the new game's biggest flaws, which is that Lara's transition from apprehensive adventurer to fearless killing machine is jarringly quick.
While Lara and her pal Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) carry the film well, the rest of the cast is a mixed bag. Walton Goggins' Mathias is a pretty one-note villain, and the father-daughter scenes between Lara and Richard Croft (Dominic West) lacked the emotional impact I was hoping for. The movie is rife with cheesy, cliche adventure film dialogue — someone literally shouts "it's a color puzzle!" out loud at one point — and has no shortage of lulls in the middle act. But considering the disastrous legacy of video game movies, the fact that Tomb Raider is completely watchable (and oftentimes entertaining) is an achievement in itself.
Marshall Honorof, Editor
The Good: Video game movies have, at long last, reached the soaring heights of "not that bad." Tomb Raider is a perfectly serviceable adventure flick. It may sound like I'm damning the movie with faint praise — and I guess, to be honest, I am — but this is so much better than we could have expected from video game movies even just a few years ago. (I'm looking at you Assassin's Creed and Ratchet & Clank.)
But it's true: Tomb Raider has a cast that's well-suited to the source material (even if Walton Goggins can do "generic menacing bad guy" roles in his sleep by now), a straightforward-but-sensible story, and a general air of competence in direction, cinematography, score and sound design.
Two action set-pieces in particular stand out. The first involves Lara and trusty sidekick Lu Ren (played by equally trusty Hong Kong action star Daniel Wu) fighting for their lives on a ship that's about to sink. The action is tight and intense, and director Roar Uthaug kept a lot of balls in the air: deadly rocks, crashing waves, collapsing decks, beleaguered adventurers, and so forth. The second involves Lara scaling a rusty airplane in order to save herself from a deadly waterfall. If you've ever played a Tomb Raider game, you probably know where it's going from there.
The movie also earns some brownie points for how it handles a female protagonist in what's usually a boys club movie genre. No one ever really calls attention to Lara's sex, either in a "rah-rah girl power!" kind of way, or in a "we're going to underestimate her because she's a woman" kind of way. I can think of better movies that could take a few cues from Tomb Raider in this regard.
The Bad: Tomb Raider's generic competence is one of its strong points, by video game movie standards. However, by regular-old movie standards, it's just another throwaway adventure film. If you've played a Tomb Raider game — or if you've seen Indiana Jones, National Treasure, The Mummy, The Da Vinci Code, etc. — you can probably guess, beat-for-beat, the film's entire story within the first 15 minutes.
In contrast to those other, better adventure films, Tomb Raider leans a little too heavily on the "action" side of the action/adventure hybrid. One of the joys of a "lost treasure" adventure film is that the audience gets to solve esoteric puzzles along with the protagonist. When Indiana Jones spells out Jehovah's name on a deadly floorboard, or Robert Langdon finds a hidden clue in a centuries-old painting, we're both impressed with their skills and tickled by the cleverness of the riddle itself.
By contrast, Lara solves an awful lot of Japanese puzzle boxes — in both compact and gigantic flavors — but we're never really sure what the riddle is, or how she figures it out. The one time she does walk us through an ancient brainteaser, she telegraphs the answer so blatantly, all the tension is gone by the time she figures it out.
Speaking of telegraphing things, the movie has a surprisingly confused relationship with foreshadowing. For 45 painstaking minutes, we follow Lara as a kickboxer, a bike courier and a world traveler before she winds up on the cursed island where most of the movie takes place.
But, like a misplaced Chekhov's gun, her kickboxing bout at the beginning has no direct parallel in her climactic battle in the end; her cycling skills don't seem to signify anything; and she's surprisingly naïve on the mean streets of Hong Kong for someone who prides herself on mixing with London's working class. It's clumsy screenwriting (with dialogue ripped directly from The Big Book of Adventure Movie Clichés, to boot), and keeps the movie firmly grounded in "disposable entertainment" territory.
Sherri L. Smith, Editor
The Good: All I wanted from this Tomb Raider is for it to be better than the Angelina Jolie entries, and it mostly succeeds at that. The new movie did a great job tapping into young Lara, giving her a few layers as a grieving child floating through life and hiding that grief through sarcasm. I felt the movie felt an okay job of showing her evolution into the ass-kicking explorer we've all come to know and love.
The best part of this movie for fans of the game reboot will be recognizing which set pieces from the first game actually made it into the movie. It was exhilarating to see her navigate that rickety plane from the beginning of the game along with the tomb she ends up raiding. They even managed to get a few of the more familiar traps into the mix. It was very much a love letter to fans of the games.
I appreciate the way the writers managed to fold the events of Tomb Raider and Rise of the Tomb Raider into the movie. She's definitely dealing with the mythical being from the first movie, but she also learns about Trinity, the shadowy organization that Lara bumps heads with in the second title. Thanks to the deft weaving, the studio is well prepared for the inevitable sequel.
While I was a little bummed not to see Lara's friend Sam in the movie, the smaller cast of characters made it easier to focus on Lara and her struggle to survive an improbable situation while looking for answers concerning her lost father.
The Bad: This is an action movie, right? Then why is everything so dark? I expected the shipwreck scene to have that dark and stormy aesthetic. But there are too many times where the action is obscured thanks to horrible lighting. It really takes away from a lot of key scenes in the movie and brings down the production value as a whole.
The movie is super predictable. If you've seen any Indiana Jones movie or played through the Tomb Raider or Uncharted series, you pretty much knew what was going to happen and when. As sure as you know someone's going to die on Lara's behalf, you know that whatever treasure she's after is bound to be booby-trapped in some horrifying way. It's fine, I guess, but it takes away from that immersion factor that you want to have in a good movie.
This is a complaint that carries over from the game. There's going to be in the point in the movie where Lara turns from badass-in-training to a walking murder tank. And while it happens the same way in the game, you have more room in the realm of a movie to explore Lara's feelings in regards to killing, particularly when it concerns her first kill. And finally, after building up bow-and-arrow Lara, it was a little jarring two see her dual-wielding pistols later in the film. I'm sure it was just a wink to the Lara of old, but I don't want that Lara for the sequel.
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures