Lara Croft, the supposedly orphaned daughter of a missing businessman, sometime explorer, Lord Richard Croft, lives in London and works as a bike courier. When her guardian finally convinces her to sign the will documents, symbolically declaring that her father is dead, she stumbles on a clue as to where her father disappeared seven years ago. However, this discovery leads her down a path that involves a shady organisation bent on finding a deadly artefact.
There is a feeling, both in film circles and in the game community, that it would be incredibly hard to adapt a video game as a film. Many hold that this is down to the engagement and interaction with a video game that is sorely lacking in the film. The twist in Bioshock, for instance, would lose most of its power if adapted to the screen, purely because it requires the player to believe they have complete autonomy. The same can be said of more mechanic and puzzle based games like Mario and Resident Evil. Though I hold that you could make a good go at the more cinematic adventure games, like Uncharted and the 2013 series Tomb Raider written by Rianna Pratchett, daughter of Discworld magician Terry Pratchett. Oh, what a happy coincidence, they made a film based on that and I am going to talk about it after doing what all film critics do when another film adaptation of a video game comes out. So I will stop delaying the review. Here we go. It starts now.
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Other recent adaptations of videos games have proved that making a film version of a video game is hard. They have all been critically unsuccessful, woefully subpar and in the case of Paul W.S. Andersons Resident Evil insidiously stupid. This can also be said of the 2001 adaptation of Tomb Raider. Tomb Raider 2018 however is different from the others. It has a simple coming of age story about an adventurous archaeologist on the lookout for her missing father and mystical artefact that would feel familiar for fans of early 2000s action-adventure films, right down to the set pieces and the strangely new looking ancient puzzles.
The story itself rattles at a decent pace with the charismatic lead Alicia Vikander as a younger Lara Croft smoothing out all the little bumps that come from the plot. We start out with the exuberant Croft in London trying her best to earn and to maintain the belief that her father is alive. Vikander is the driving force in the film, despite how she is treated during the second and thrid acts when she is dragged through many many thorn bushes and behind the male characters who unfortunately do most of the work in the tomb. There are attempts to give other characters motivation and nuance, the villain Mathias Vogel mirrors Lara to a certain extent but nothing is made of it, and the same with Daniel Wu’s Lu Ren, whose father disappeared with Richard Croft. But they feel simple and underdeveloped; Lara Croft is the only three dimensional part of this movie surrounded by cardboard. She has motivation, she has an arch, she feels like a person going through the ringer. She bleeds, she can be vulnerable, she can be strong, fearless and afraid. The best moments in the film are actually the quieter ones when she interacts with the other characters, like staring down the villain with a gun to her head or her reunion with her father. It is thanks to this more human approach to the character we are able to go on this slightly more larger than life adventure with her.
Yes, there is a predictable nature to the film, but that is probably inherent in the genre conventions and the material that the film is adapted from. Lara’s naivety and stubbornness and inexperience get her and her travelling companions in trouble. There are tons of coincidences and moments of luck that save our heroine from what for the rest of us would be certain death, and we have a third act that feels very familiar to those of us who have seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Yet I still found myself captivated by the film and I put that down to how seriously everyone involved in the production has taken the source material. I have already said how Vikander sells every impact and fall, how she draws out every part of Lara’s character in order to make her believable and entertaining. Dominic West does some stellar, if hammy, work as Richard Croft and Nick Frost as well as Kristin Scott Thomas flesh out the world to hopefully set us up for a sequel.
However, despite this there is still something missing from Tomb Raider. It may be because it banks too much on the name brand recognition and fan attachment to the already established character to power its story and visuals. It may be the before mentioned lack of interactivity, which perhaps helps us buy some of the more incongruous plot problems in video games. Or it might even be the lack of an identity outside the game it is based on. Or even that the film despite taking its material seriously doesn’t try to do anything subversive with it.
With Tomb Raider I think we finally have a decent video game film. We have an interesting main character who I personally cannot wait to go on more adventures with, there were some nail-biting sequences, even if they did come a bit hard and fast. Yes there are issues with the story and the way that the best bit of the film is put to the side in the climatic final action set piece. But Vikander’s screen presence soothes a lot of those issues. Unfortunately though, despite the great cinematic set pieces, an exciting, if flawed, story and a captivating lead, Tomb Raider still feels like you’re watching someone else play a video game.
You can watch Tomb Raider in cinemas now