Today I’m reviewing Tomb Raider the 2018 film, looking at the history of Lara Croft and examining why most films based on video games fail at the box office.
I’m going to be honest, I did not have high hopes for Tomb Raider. It’s a film based of a video game and the previous actress who portrayed Lara Croft was Angelina Jolie who left big shoes (or perhaps, boots) to fill. So you can imagine my surprise when I not only enjoyed the film but thought it was among the best I’ve watched this year. Here are my thoughts.
Warning: This review contains minor spoilers.
First, here is a quick history of the character in case you are unfamiliar.
Lara Croft first appeared in 1996 in the original Tomb Raider game. She was a counter stereotypical woman, most female characters at this point (and you could argue many female characters now in video games) were either bystanders or a damsel, waiting to be saved by the male protagonist. Lara Croft was cool, confident and sexy which leads me into the second point. Lara was also noticeable for her breasts. There is a legend that a programmer called Toby Gard pressed the wrong button on his mouse and instead of making Lara’s breasts smaller he dramatically increased them. His manager, spotting this mistake, told Gard to keep this as it would help sell more games. It’s unclear how true this story is but after the release of her first game Lara became an instant hit with players.
Since the original Tomb Raider Lara became an icon of video gaming and for a short time was the mascot of the Playstation console. She is a feminist icon, she owns a blue plaque in London and is one of video games first sex symbols. Lara’s popularity grew with the Angelina Jolie films (titled Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life) but Lara’s popularity has waned in recent years with several buggy video games. In 2013 she made her triumphant return with the rebooted Tomb Raider game of which the film is based.
Although the film and game share the same premise (Lara, stranded on an island that contains an ancient tomb) the film has a healthy disrespect for the source material. Although several features of the games, including Lara’s bow and arrows and her climbing axe make an appearance, along with a certain scene involving an airplane wreck and a waterfall, these don’t distract from the films plot. The acting of the whole cast, but in particular Alicia Vikander who plays Lara, is flawless. I thought she would be overshadowed by Angelina Jolie but I discovered that I enjoyed the rebooted film more than the original and preferred Vikander’s realistic Lara to Jolie’s seductive portrayal. One of the game developers said they wanted the player to fear for Lara and not play the game with the knowledge she would survive to the end and it seems that the film makers shared this aim. The fight scenes are brutal and you do fear for all characters involved. I can’t remember the last time an action film actually had me on the edge of my seat.
Tomb Raider is an unusual film in the fact that despite being based of a video game it performed reasonably well at the box office. Most video game movies are box office bombs, for example Warcraft and Assassin Creed, so why did Lara perform so well?
There are always issues translating video games to the big screen. For example, video games are interactive where as films are passive viewing and it appears that the film makers are often unaware of the lore or the plot of the video games they’re adapting from, choosing to focus on one key feature. I think the answer to why Tomb Raider is a good video game film is that out of many video games to choose from the Lara Croft franchise is the most flexible and easiest to translate. The standard plot of a Lara Croft game is that Lara must enter a tomb to save an artefact before the bad guys captures it. The plot of a Super Mario Brothers game is to reach the end of the level. Out of these two examples only one has a plot. Please note that I said most video game movies and not all. Jumanji Welcome to the jungle and Ready Player One have received positive reviews and I’m secretly hoping for a resurgence in video game movies similar to the Superhero bubble we’re currently in.)
My only complaint about the film are the same complaints I have about most action films. At one point Lara runs through a forest, jumps into a river, climbs around a plane wreck, parashoots off a waterfall and crash-lands in a forest and yet only has one piece of shrapnel and a few cuts. These cuts disappear in later scenes and Lara suffers no repercussion of this. Alicia Vikander’s make-up is perfect, she’s still wearing her mascara and lipstick where as if a real person did this they would be a bloody corpse. This nitpick doesn’t ruin the film at all for me and it’s my only negative point about the film.
I’ll award Tomb Raider nine climbing axes out of ten and recommend you go down to your local cinema to watch it.