TOMB RAIDER Misses Golden Opportunity To Change The Game

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TOMB RAIDER opens everywhere 3/16/18.

The name of the movie is Tomb Raider, but name of the game is franchises. That’s the word that makes Hollywood drool like Pavlov’s pooches. Some are obvious, like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and the mighty Marvel Cinematic Universe that everyone in Tinseltown is scrambling to emulate.  Tomb Raider would seem to be an obvious candidate, considering it’s essentially Indiana Jones as a British woman. Born from the multi-billion dollar videogame industry, Tomb Raider’s lead character Lara Croft has driven a long parade of console videogames, a successful comic book series, and two reasonably successful films starring Angelina Jolie. After more than a decade, Hollywood decided the time was right to reboot the cinematic arm of the Tomb Raider franchise.

Please read the following in that deep, resonant and dramatic movie announcer voice: Imagine a world where originality was important, where high adventure generally makes sense and where storytelling was more important than potential sequels. Sorry folks, but you’re not on that world. You’re on a world where the same plots are continually recycled, where actors can’t always elevate a film over a mediocre script, and the traps were so dull the only thing I feared was the hero dying from laughing at the absurdity of the climax.

Roar Uthaug, who showed good promise with the Norwegian action thriller The Wave, didn’t do a terrible job. The main actors, particularly Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, The Danish Girl) as Lara Croft, Dominic West (The Affair, 300) as Lord Richard Croft, and the still underrated Walton Goggins (Justified, The Hateful Eight) as mercenary Mathias Vogel , are generally strong in their roles. Unfortunately, the Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons script cleaves way too close to the source material. I never thought I’d say that. Most often, films adapted from other works take too many liberties and stray too far from the stories the fans are expecting.

Here’s the problem: the film industry is a tortoise. I almost went with sloth, but the music industry is even slower and some tortoises can kick it into overdrive when they have to. The video game industry, on the other hand, is a cheetah. They live on the cutting edge. It’s an ill-conceived plan to adapt a videogame into a movie. The game this film is adapted from, 2013’s Tomb Raider by Crystal Dynamics (itself a franchise reboot), was a treat to play, the cinematic cut scenes and dramatic voice acting was all most Croft fans would really ever want. You controlled Lara, admittedly down a mostly linear path to the programmers’ and developers’ story-driven endgame. You decided how to level up her abilities, giving you some roleplaying investment in the character. You searched the scenery for side quest clues. You did this as far back as five years ago. Do you really need to watch it on autoplay? Be warned, possible spoilers ahead.

What would make sense to me is to see Hollywood and the video game studios figure out how to share their specific art forms within a shared universe. Imagine if Marvel had been partnered with, say, Bethesda Softworks, the makers of the much lauded The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. In between “Captain America: Civil War” and “Black Panther” you could play a video game voiced by the same actors you love on the big screen, but telling a completely new story all its own. Maybe it’s the mystery of the White Ghost. Maybe it’s a comedic oddball buddy caper with Ant-Man and Hawkeye. Whatever it is, it bridges the gap between films. If done right, I see no reason why both entertainment forms wouldn’t reap fairly equal benefits.

It’s a shame, too, because Alicia Vikander is quite likeable as the heroine: smart, athletic, mostly cool under pressure, and realistically proportioned. Here she goes from shipwrecked to “Lady Robin Hood of a mysterious island” in short order, runs a lot, gets wounded and stitched up by her father, and not long after takes a beating that would have mixed martial arts hopefuls tapping out. She doesn’t always look like she’s pained enough, or in the vernacular of professional wrestling she “no sells” much of the brawl, and it’s sometimes difficult to not think, “Wait, does she have superpowers? Maybe Wolverine gave her a blood transfusion when I wasn’t looking?” She does work very well with Dominic West, though, who reminded me more than a few times of Richard Chamberlain from that old Shogun TV miniseries which was adapted from the James Clavell novel. And of course Walton Goggins plays a good psychopath, even if his motivations were pretty weak. That aside, my other big quibble was the traps. Now I know how ludicrous this sounds, because ancient booby trapped tombs in movies are seldom realistic. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones encounters spikes, pitfalls, poison darts and a giant freaking boulder the size of Rhode Island. In Tomb Raider, Lara Croft encounters a drop away floor that took me out of the story to ponder how the floor would have constructed in the first place. The elaborate key trap to even get into the temple was simply set in the wall, no evidence of mechanisms or infrastructure behind it. The entity they have been searching for all along is little more than a Jack in the Box. Again, I know I’m comparing apples to apples here, but to me the traps in Raiders of the Los Ark felt mostly plausible. These just felt overwrought and underdeveloped.

In the end, of course, it all comes down to entertainment. Tomb Raider is far from the worst film I’ve seen this year, but if I, like millions of others, have played the game, why exactly do I need to watch the exact same story play out as a movie? Hollywood should be looking for ways to integrate with the videogame world in new and better ways. I don’t need a tie-in game that rehashes what happens in a film any more than I need a film to repeat the game. A trade off of platforms for alternating chapters to a larger story, where playing the game would be just as vital to the entire experience of a given story as the film part would be, could be an amazing shift in the entertainment industry. Just don’t expect Tomb Raider to be that pioneer. Still, if you’ve seen Black Panther three times already and Game Night at least once, Tomb Raider might be the best option for the weekend movie goer. Then again, you might enjoy being Lara Croft yourself on your gaming console even more than this movie, and wish you were back in Wakanda.

2.5 / 5.0