James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
Connor Bynum // Film Critic
Video game adaptations onto the big screen have developed somewhat of a cursed subgenre in the world of film. Whenever the announcement gets made that another gaming franchise is getting made into a feature film, fans of said franchise become simultaneously excited and terrified. “There’s never been a successful video game film before,” they might say. “But could this one finally be the one to turn things around? Can there ever be a video game film that succeeds both in adapting its source material and as a film on its own merit?” In the case of the latest reboot of TOMB RAIDER: Maybe.
The filmmakers have wisely based this reboot on the 2013 game that jump started the franchise for players by giving us an origin story for the legendary heroine. Yet it also takes its time establishing itself as a film for the first 45 minutes before delving into its source material. Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) refusing to believe that her father (Dominic West) has perished on an adventure and thus refusing her inheritance, struggles to pay her bills as a bike courier in London. Her skills in combat are immediately established in an opening sequence of her fighting in an MMA gym.
But this is short lived, as she can’t even afford to pay for membership at the gym. Something has to change. That’s when she discovers that her father may indeed be alive after all. His adventure had been to discover the lost island of Yamatai and to find the tomb of a mythical sorceress of death known as Himeko. Upon finding her father’s research and a map to the island, Lara sets off to find him and so our adventure begins.
This is a lot of information that was not present in the game, but it is a welcome change. In order to work as a film, liberties must be taken that aren’t necessary for a console experience. In terms of how well the film pulls its influence from the game, for the most part it is wildly successful. Specifically with an action sequence involving an escape from an old plane crash landed in the forest, and the game defining moment when Lara is forced to take her first life. It’s raw, it’s gritty, and Vikander nails the emotion that any human would feel in such a situation.
However, there is one aspect of the games and Lara Croft as a character that is inexplicably absent: Her love for archeology. Sure, she is able to pull off a few puzzles when the does eventually raid a tomb in the final act, but part of what made Lara such a likeable character to play was her unashamed nerdy obsession with historical artifacts. None of that is present in this film, as Lara’s only motivation for going to Yamatai is to find her father. While that makes sense from a wider point of view, there is no real reason why she couldn’t have wanted to find out the truth about Himeko as well. This would have given her a conflict deeper than just wanting to save her dad, but to struggle with her own obsession to uncover the unknown. Instead the film opts to remove any such choice from Lara’s control and literally forces her to raid a tomb with a gun to her head.
All that being said, Vikander is a perfect fit for the iconic character. She’s charismatic, intelligent, and carries just enough emotional vulnerability to make her relatable without appearing weak. Walton Goggins also is wonderfully cast as the film’s antagonist, Mathias Vogel. He’s given just the right amount of creepiness that one would expect from a marooned man who happens upon an admittedly attractive young Lara Croft, but balances this with a motivation that is almost enough to justify the horrible things he does.
With serviceable action sequences and final act filled with a well crafted tomb, TOMB RAIDER will likely please casual viewers and fans of the games alike. Whether or not it will be able to make good on the obvious sequel tease at the end is yet to be seen.