Dec 24, 2018
It is a Christmas Eve tradition in the Dobzynski household to watch “Die Hard”, as it is the best and most perfect holiday movie of all-time. However, today I’ll be reviewing another beloved franchise, one that has successfully rebooted and modernized itself in the video game world. But does it translate well to the big screen? I’ll let you know in a minute, but before we move on, if you ever thought about giving back to the podcast, head over to patreon.com and become a sponsor of the podcast. Our formal campaign will debut next year, but for a few dollars a month, you can force me to review “Die Hard” or whatever movie you would like. And if a monetary donation is too much, head over to your podcatcher of choice and drop us a review, or just share this episode with your friends. Thanks for all you do to support the podcast so we can continue to provide daily movie reviews for currently playing, newly streaming, classic and cult movies.
Today’s movie is “Tomb Raider” (2018), the film franchise reboot directed by Roar Uthaug, and written for the screen by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, using a story by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Evan Daugherty, based on the incredibly successful video game story by Susan O’Connor and Rhianna Pratchett. The film follows Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), whose explorer father Richard Croft (Dominic West) has been missing for seven years. After receiving a puzzle while finalizing paperwork for his death, she discovers a potential lead on an uncharted island, and sells all she has to search for him.
Tomb Raider is easily one of the most successful video game franchises of all time, a landmark title within the first-person adventure genre, containing a smart mix of action, exploration, stealth, and puzzles. The initial title debuted in 1996 on consoles and PC, and spawned a number of sequels and offshoots over the next seven years, and a remastered reboot trilogy to take advantage of the many advances in technology. The franchise also had its problems, not the least of which was the unrealistic body ideal and personification of Lara Croft, likely born of a pool of brogrammers, a perception not helped by Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of Lara Croft in the previous two films. So, Crystal Dynamics went back to basics, bringing in female writers and designers, but also elevating the game with motion capture using an actual model performing the moves, and with a body type and costume that makes physical and social sense. The result was the first entry in the latest video game reboot franchise, and its smash sequel, both of which I have played to 100% in the adventure mode, even after waiting a full year to get the sequel, thanks to whatever dump truck of money was backed up by Microsoft. So, it was clearly time to attempt another film franchise, and they get it about half right.
The real success of the most recent video game franchise series boils down to two main factors. The first was already mentioned, the massive leaps in video game technology, which not only makes regular game play absolutely incredible, but can use the latest in graphics and animation to develop amazing action scenes that delight, from the iconic rusted out plane on the waterfall scene, to some truly exquisite escape runs from collapsing tombs. The film, in my opinion, recreates these scenes very well, almost too well in some cases such that it ruined the surprise of the scenes for video game players. The second main factor was the depth to the story that was developed, which not only mined the extensive and disparate stories of the original franchises, but also delved deep into the story of Himiko and the island of Yamatai. You didn’t start this Tomb Raider as an accomplished adventurer, needing to just find the right equipment to conquer the enemy. No, you begin as an overly ambitious and wholly unskilled Lara Croft, full of hubris and privilege, that immediately finds herself over her head, quite literally, and must take action over a fairly long time period to discover the truth of Yamatai. I probably spent forty hours playing the game, tracking down all the lore bits that delved deep into the history of the island, and trying to grab all the trophies I could. It’s this aspect of the success for the reboot that the film simply fails to capture.
“Tomb Raider” doesn’t have time to really develop Lara Croft as a character, even with the thirty minute quasi-prologue, and certainly not in the same way that playing as Lara Croft in the video game can. Alicia Vikander is the best and most believable Lara Croft yet, but there’s just not enough time to build an attachment to the character. The action scenes really are great, capturing a lot of the more iconic parts of the video game, but the story has been stripped down so much, and moves too fast. I’ve said it a lot, lately, that some films have too much story to fit into a single film format. I would hope that the folks who own the franchise rights might consider a television show instead. I would most definitely watch a first season set on Yamatai, that delves into the four different time periods in the lore, with the expanded cast of characters, and with intense action scenes similar to Daniel Wu’s work on “Into the Badlands”. One or two seasons, then move to the next location for a couple more seasons. We could grow with Lara Croft on the island, and develop a more faithful adaptation of the incredible franchise. Oh yeah, and make it TV-MA or for mature audiences. I want to see Lara Croft get way more realistically violent.
“Tomb Raider” (2018) struggles to adapt the long, rich story from the video game reboot franchise into an effective feature length film, even while capturing some well-choreographed action scenes. Alicia Vikander is the best Lara Croft to date, although her performance was limited by the need to tell a stripped down story over a short period of time. Franchise fans, or adventure fans in general, should definitely check out this film, but don’t expect it to be more than the format allows. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to bed early to see if see if Santa brings me the third volume in the trilogy tomorrow morning.
Rotten Tomatoes: 51%
One Movie Punch: 7.2/10
“Tomb Raider” (2018) is rated PG-13 and is currently streaming on HBO.