As a younger video game enthusiast I remember being excited at the news of “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”, a 2001 movie based on the “Tomb Raider” video game franchise. It seemed ripe for the big screen with potential to be an Indiana Jones styled action-adventure. While it certainly couldn’t hold a candle to the three true Indy pictures, it was a fun and successful adaptation. A sequel followed – not quite as good and not quite as successful.
The video game series started in 1996 and over the years has seen several sequels, remakes, and spin-offs. The most recent reboot was in 2013. The game from developer Crystal Dynamics was critically acclaimed and wildly successful. It would become the highest grossing game in the franchise. Players responded to the grittier tone and human element that was sometimes overlooked in past games.
Now the movie series returns, freshly rebooted and based on the most recent incarnation of the “Tomb Raider” games. And like its inspiration, it seeks to be grittier and more focused on giving us a more human Lara Croft. For the most part the movie succeeds.
The first smart decision was casting Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander. She gives us a Lara who is considerably more grounded than Angelina Jolie’s version from the previous films. Vikander’s portrayal is anchored by heartbreak, vulnerability and uncertainty. She isn’t a swashbuckling tomb-rainding buttkicker by nature or desire. The story frames her as a heartbroken young woman at a loss following the disappearance of her father (played by Dominic West) some seven years earlier.
But Lara is also full of determination and bravery. An unexpected clue leads her to her father’s secret study at the family’s now abandoned estate. There she discovers her father last set off for a mysterious remote island outside of Hong Kong. Through a ‘if you’re watching this I must be dead’ recording he commands Lara to destroy all of his research regarding the island. Instead she uses it to find the location and heads there in hopes of discovering what happened to him.
This opens the rather obvious door to Lara’s adventure. She runs into Walton Goggins who plays Mathias Vogel, the film’s chief antagonist. Turns out he heads an expedition on the island to find the same ancient tomb Lara’s father was seeking. Goggins is an unexpectedly fun choice. He brings a subtle (and slightly humorous) wide-eyed madness to his character who is a bit stir-crazy from his years on the island. For Lara it becomes a journey of revelation and self-discovery as she finds herself at odds with Vogel and his band of mercenaries. Oh, and of course there is also the tomb and the potentially devastating power it may hold.
Director Roar Uthaug’s last film was the excellent 2015 Norwegian disaster picture “The Wave”. Here he is given a much different canvas but the sharp camera eye from his previous movie remains. The action scenes are shot with energy and clarity. No annoying rapid-fire quick cuts or shaky hand-held approach. He also wisely stops at certain points and sets his camera on Vikander allowing her to flesh out pieces of her character through her performance. That may sound a bit obvious, but far too often directors don’t give good performers that room. And again, Vikander is spot-on.
Does “Tomb Raider” break new ground or change the movie landscape? Not hardly. But is that a prerequisite for every film? Absolutely not. Will it be pigeonholed as just another video game movie? I think we’ve already seen some of that. But when you toss aside any preconceived notions or sky-high expectations, what you get is a fun and often times thrilling action-adventure with a strong, believable female protagonist . It’s a nice new foundation for a franchise. Unfortunately due to some iffy box office numbers that may not happen. What a shame.
VERDICT – 4 STARS
I really enjoyed this film. While it mostly felt like something we’ve seen many times before, it was still fun and enjoyable, especially with Vikander in the lead. I hope this spawns a few more films because there is a lot of room for this franchise to grow. Great review, Keith.
Thanks man. Had a lot of fun with it especially watching with my daughter. Definitely nailed the vibe of the current game reboot.
Glad to hear this worked for you, bro. As a huge fan of the video games, I found this to be more in tune myself. It lost its way slightly towards the end but up until then I was thoroughly entertained. The action scenes were very well handled and Vikander made a great Lara. I’d like to see more.
Good to hear. I’m with you. There were indeed some spots in the final act where it seemed to spin its wheels, but ultimately it was a fun adventure flick. Have you played the last two games since the reboot? This really felt in line with those.
I played them all throughout the years and I still return to the anniversary on occasion. I’ve even got my daughters into them. I’m currently playing the latest Tomb Raider (I think) which is an 18 cert and lot more bloody and violent. I’m assuming this is the one you referred to in your review? I can see the similarity with the film and I liked how they brought in a few of Lara’s signatures moves.
Yep! That’s the one. Definitely grittier. By the way, a new sequel game comes out later this year.
Another one? Superb. I’ve just finished the first 3 Uncharted games as well which are the best I’ve seen since Tomb Raider.
I played the first two Uncharted games. They did feel a bit inspired by Tomb Raider.
Definitely inspired. Uncharted was great but Tomb Raider still reigns supreme in that particular style of gaming. I was a huge fan of The Last of Us too.
More of an Xbox player so I still need to play the more recent Uncharted.
Great review. Personally, I liked this movie. It had its moments where it could’ve been better, but it was definitely engaging and entertaining. I liked it more than the previous ones.
100% with you. I had fun with it an felt Vikander was ideal for the part. Worried we may not see another one though. It hasn’t performed great over here but overseas it’s been stronger. Fingers crossed though.
Yeah, i do have fingers-crossed on a sequel (with Vikander) as well.
The good news is she has said she is willing to do a sequel. I guess time (and money) will tell.
I’ll see this eventually. I really wanted this to do well because I was so annoyed with how people online treated Vikander’s chest size. I hope it makes a bunch of money.
I think making a movie of a game is always a delicate balancing act. Make it too much like the game and it may seem too repetitive, to non-gamers. But if you stray too far from the characters and the game storylines the game’s hardcore fans won’t go to the movies to watch it.
Personally, I thought the new Tombraider got the balance right and was definitely a better film adaptation of a game than say the recent Assasin’s Creed.
Thank you for your well written and useful review.
Great points and I feel many of the video game movie mishaps were a result of what you mention. Tomb Raider felt more focused and better constructed. It had that balance. And I really loved Vikander. Here’s hoping we get another.
4 stars, I like the sound of that.