While it’s pretty much common knowledge at this point, it’s definitely no secret at all that films adaptations of video games have struggled translating to the big screen successfully. Sure there have been some really fun exceptions here and there (MORTAL KOMBAT and RESIDENT EVIL are definitely both the first ones that’ll come to most people’s minds) but sadly most of the time, the filmmakers behind these films fail to truly capture what made the video game itself great in the first place. One of these in particular was the hugely popular TOMB RAIDER franchise, which was adapted into the 2001 film LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER starring Oscar winner Angelina Jolie as the game’s legendary heroine “Lara Croft”. While the film was a success at the box office, it was also completely panned by critics as well. After the critical and box office disappointment of its sequel LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER: THE CRADLE OF LIFE, the franchise went dormant for many years. Now Hollywood has decided to take another crack at TOMB RAIDER again with this recently released 2018 reboot starring another Oscar winner Alicia Vikander in the role of “Lara Croft”.
Taking inspiration of the 2013 reboot game of TOMB RAIDER, the film tells the story of Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), a strongly independent young woman who works a bike courier in London. Day by day Lara is trying to get over the loss of her father Richard (Dominic West), a businessman and adventurer who mysteriously vanished when she was a teenager. One day after getting arrested during a bike accident, Lara is visited by her father’s former associate at his company Ana Miller (Kristen Scott Thomas). She tells Lara that she must come to Croft Holdings to sign some papers finalising her father’s death and received her inheritance. When she gets there, Lara discovers a pre-recorded message and a box of research left by her father on Himiko, the mythical queen who supposedly had the power over both life and death. Believing that the research could lead her to finidng out what happened to her father, Lara heads to Hong Kong to investigate. When she arrives there, she meets and hires a sea-captain named Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to take her to an island in the that Himiko was buried at. Once she gets to the island, Lara discovers that it has taken over by a sinister treasure hunter named Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), who’s also leading an expedition to find Himiko’s tomb at all costs.
I must admit that I actually haven’t seen the original Angelina Jolie starring TOMB RAIDER film since it first came out back in 2001. At the time I thought that it was an enjoyable if rather silly and over-the-top action film (however the less said about its sequel, the better), so I was very curious to see how this more serious reboot of the series would turn out. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it but given with all the talent this new film both in front and behind the camera, it did give me a bit of hope that this had the potential to a good quality film. So was the film able to break the video-game-to-film curse? Or is it just another disappointing one to add to the pile. While it may not be a great film by any means, I’m really happy to report that TOMB RAIDER was, at least for me anyway, able to do the former. Even I can’t really say how faithful it is to the 2013 reboot game since I still haven’t had a chance to play it yet, I still found TOMB RAIDER on its own to be a surprising fun and engaging action/adventure film that’s definitely ranks up there as one of the strongest video-game-to-film adaptations that we’ve had so far. There’s a lot of reasons why that is but for me personally, one of the them is definitely without a doubt the casting of Alicia Vikander in the lead role.
In her role as one of the popular video game characters of all time, Alicia Vikander really knocked it out of the park with her performance as “Lara Croft”. While the character in this still very much portrayed as the great action hero that we all know and love, Vikander brings a lot of layers to her role that make “Lara Croft” a far more engaging and well rounded three-dimensional character. Sure I can see why that some people might be bothered with some aspects that Vikander and the filmmakers in her how they approach “Lara” but for me personally, that’s what made her so compelling onscreen. When it comes to film’s many action sequences, Vikander completely nailed them and I bought her a believable bad arse. Plus she’s backed by a really solid supporting cast, who also did really well in their roles. Dominic West gave a strong turn as “Richard Croft” (his character’s relationship with “Lara” was definitely one of the best aspects of TOMB RAIDER for me), Walton Goggins stole every scene he was in as the film’s villain “Mathias Vogel” and Daniel Wu was great as “Lu Ren”. He was definitely the standout for me among the supporting cast and I enjoyed his chemistry with co-star Vikander. Plus he had a great onscreen presence that I found to be quite compelling as well.
When it comes to the technical side of things, I thought that Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug (who previously made the 2009 cult slasher film COLD PREY and the 2015 disaster film THE WAVE) did a really good job directing wise on his first major Hollywood production. It’s definitely pretty clear from beginning to end that despite using both the games and classic adventure films like the INDIANA JONES series as inspirations, Uthaug also used both BATMAN BEGINS and CASINO ROYALE as templates to how he wanted to approach both the style and tone of TOMB RAIDER. Uthaug’s handling of the film’s many action sequences were really well done, and I found each one quite thrilling in how they were staged (there’s one set piece in particular that felt like a complete homage to Steven Spielberg). Plus the score by Tom Holkenborg (a.k.a. Junkie XL) was really solid, George Richmond’s cinematography was nicely done and the film was very well paced. In terms of negatives, There were some things that didn’t work for me. Some of the CGI effects looked a little hokey at times, members of the supporting cast (Kristen Scottt Thomas, Nick Frost, Derek Jacobi etc.) weren’t given much to do and while I thought script (which written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons) was solid, it also was rather simple and formulaic as well. Although that didn’t bother me too much since after the suffering with the overstuffed, convoluted scripts of previous video game films like WARCRAFT and ASSASSINS CREED, I’m kind of happy that TOMB RAIDER’s script was as straight forward as it was.
Overall while the reboot of TOMB RAIDER may not be up there as one of the most original or unique action adventure films that you will ever seen, it’s still a pretty strong and entertaining one that I had a really fun time with nonetheless. After suffering so many bad or mediocre video game-to-film adaptations over the pass few years, it’s finally great to see one that actually delivers the goods. Regardless if you have played the video games or not, TOMB RAIDER is a film I can see everyone get a kick out of it that’s sure. Plus if you need another reason to see it, it’s worth it for Alicia Vikander’s great turn alone as “Lara Croft”. For me personally after this film, I’m definitely down for a sequel!
Review written by Bede Jermyn