The newest attempt at making a videogame film.
The new Tomb Raider is another piece in a decades long puzzle to make a truly successful transfer from videogame to cinema. I find it equally perplexing that this task seems so hard and how frequently studios are willing to give it a try. You would think that after so many failed attempts and straight up flops that we would simply walk away. Granted, this one has begun to turn a profit, but it did suffer from an underwhelming opening weekend. These movies just aren’t the blockbusters we want them to be.
Why videogame adaptations seem to be damned to failure (critically or commercially or both) is a bit of a mystery to me. Sure, videogame stories are a bit basic in comparison to a lot of other mediums, and I do include the supposedly well-written ones like Assassins Creed in that statement. However, films like John Wick have proven to be massive successes with storylines about as deep as a kiddie pool.
Perhaps the reason for this constant failure is the name brand franchising. Let us not forget that comic book films used to really suck ass. It is the current generation that is able to enjoy competent filmmaking. Yes, I just complimented comic book films (for those of you playing the “things Jay probably won’t say” bingo sheet). People have an idea of what they want an adaptation to look like, and while we often remember the ones that work well (like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter) there are plenty that actively make the planet a sadder place by their sole existence (The Golden Compass or Queen of the Damned).
The last videogame film was the half-cooked turd that was Assassin’s Creed. Like the new Tomb Raider, AC boasted a strong cast, absurd production costs, and it seemed as though studios were perhaps finally taking it seriously. However, it has been revealed that a lot of folks involved not only never played the videogame source material for AC, but were actually proud of the fact they had not. Such absurdity is hard to believe—I should never be involved in a Marvel film because I don’t read Marvel comics. Could you imagine if the director of Black Panther came and out said they were proud that they never read comics? We’d all be stunned, but for some reason videogames are still the bastard child of the art world. Despite the fact that they have been outselling Hollywood for more than a decade, we still have to push them away, lest the taint of “gamer culture” somehow infect us all.
What this lengthy diatribe is trying to say is that the new Tomb Raider had a major uphill battle to be a success whether or not the film is any good. We have an adaptation of a rebooted game released in 2013 that significantly changed the tone and feel of the series. We also have a film that consciously made the decision to cast an actress we are meant to root for and not lust after (a decision I think was wise). However, who is the audience for this film? An M rated game that is five years old should indicate an R rated film (targeting gamers out of their teens), but the film opted for a PG-13 rating. I have bitched to the moon and back about the stupidity of mis-targeting an audience—something that happens much more often in my beloved horror genre than action, but the general principles still apply. We have a film that is trying to balance the needs of two audiences, and this is a risky decision.
We have Alicia Vikander taking of the role of Lara croft, and she is supported by Dominic West (who plays her father), Daniel Wu (who plays Lu Ren, a man helping Lara look for her father), and Walton Goggins (who plays the villain Mathias Vogel). This is a strong cast, particularly for an action film. I am not terribly familiar with Vikander, but I was aware of her acting achievements. She creates a new Croft that is a bit different from the videogames.
The film takes a bit to get its footing. Lara is broke as fuck, and has to work as a courier because she refuses to acknowledge her father (who has been missing for seven years) is dead and take control of the estate. We are treated to an at least interesting bike race that helps us realize that Lara is street smart and physically capable. They shoehorn in her intellect a little less tactfully, but whatever. I enjoyed getting to know this new iteration of the character, and while it certainly isn’t world changing, the film serves as a decent chunk of action genre.
However, there are still some problems with the presentation. Why action films have to do their editing with a chainsaw is beyond me, but we get the oh so sickening shaky cam, jerky cam, and tons and tons of cuts for no real reason. I used to think this was a cheap shit maneuver on the parts of filmmakers to not bother with choreography, but this film does have some decent extended scenes—I now think this jump/jerk nonsense is just something we should expect in the genre (oh joy).
It also takes a long time for Lara to actually get to the mysterious island off the coast of Japan. I forgot the cheesy name of the island, and funnily enough the current IMDB summary doesn’t include it because apparently it isn’t memorable enough to bother including on the page. Once we get to the island we are introduced to Vogel, and I like Goggins as an actor. It was nice to see him in a larger production, and his character does break out of the nonsense villain trope crap that we do get in videogame adaptations. Sure, it is all a little one-dimensional, but at least most of the parts run in harmony.
Vikander steals the show, and for the first time in a while you actually see a hero in pain. A lot of the harrowing scenes are taken right from the game, but Vikander does her best to show that Lara is human, and hurts when she is in pain. I appreciated this as it showed consequences for the actions of the people involved in the story. Death here seems to matter a little bit more than it does in most films of this genre. Lara doesn’t have dumbass one liners and isn’t able to shrug off a serious injury. For the vast majority of the film, we have a more grounded action flick (the last ten minutes crams the cheese in, unfortunately).
It all looks nice and sounds nice. The sets are fine. The action is fun, albeit overly edited, and perhaps there is too much CGI. I think any horror fan has become a little more numb to corner-cutting CGI than most. I will likely bitch about it in other movies, but here it was not as distracting to me as I think it is for some other folks. The whole film runs as a decent action flick on the surface. The problem with the film is that any one who enjoys picking plot holes apart is going to have a field day here.
It takes Lara seven years to bother looking at her father’s will (which leads her to investigate the island he was investigating), but there is no mention as to why it took her so long from him. We know her reasons, but he doesn’t. Further, how the hell did Vogel’s operation actually last for seven years? Further, how did he not just stumble across the tomb they were looking for? The island seems quite small, and with an unlimited amount of explosives and slave labor, one would think the entire island could have been excavated in half the time.
These faults might be on the nit-picky level, but it was hard to ignore how no one seemed perplexed that Lara just kind of shows up after such a long time. We also have to have a shoehorned in global shadow-group trying to take all control of the world. They are after this princess who supposedly has the power of death, and Lara’s father wants to stop them. Blah. The ancient supernatural princess works on a genre level, but it all has the originality of tap water. The film does handle the supernatural angle interestingly, and I was genuinely curious how they were going to approach this particular issue.
Despite these shortcomings the film isn’t a failure. It might actually be one of the better videogame adaptations. It seems that having good actors playing real people (albeit a little one dimensionally) is the new piece of the puzzle this particular attempt at medium crossover adds. It works as a fun action flick, and to me this is no different than most action films. However, there is nothing special here. I watched the film yesterday (which will be weeks ago when this is published) and I remember very little. The things that this movie does right are in part what traps it into mediocrity. We have a true transformation from videogame to adventure film, but it is just another adventure film. Is it worth seeing? Sure. Hell, I’d pry see a sequel. I think if you’re looking for an action film with some fun set pieces and don’t care about a shallow plot, this one is worth watching. 6/10
Note: after watching this film I have decided to watch the Resident Evil series, which is the most successful (financially) videogame film franchise. I wonder if this will be a horrible decision. (I don’t really wonder).