“ONE TOMB RAIDER IS GOOD. TWO, EVEN BETTER”?
For me to look at these two films is not only to look at two iterations of the same character, but two different eras in film. From a time where there were nothing but mediocre to okay films, with action blockbusters seeming to be the only genre that made any significant amount of money. The character in question, Lara Croft, started simply as a PS One era female Indiana Jones, but grew into an archetypal female bad-ass thrill seeker, but has a good head on her shoulders. For reference, I have played Tomb Raider Legends (2006), Tomb Raider Anniversary (2007), Tomb Raider Underworld (2008) on my PS3, the rebooted Tomb Raider (2013) on my Xbox 360, and the sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider (2016) on PC, so I have experience with the source material for both film adaptations. However, in 2001, I had not yet played any of these including the older games in the 1990s before seeing the first film adaptation, so I was completely, unabashedly unbiased in my first viewing of the movie.
I was eleven years old at the time, the key demographic for a film like Tomb Raider. It was a pure popcorn flick for fans of the video games, and it knew what it was, and fully accepts it. Yes the characters don’t have much depth to analyze, especially the antagonist, and it plays into the boyhood fantasy image of an attractive woman in short shorts, duel wielding pistols in her tight t-shirts, but it had escapism. The globe-trotting adventures of Lara Croft for mythical artifacts that might be beyond human comprehension were always the highlight the games; so is it with the 2001 film. Angelina Jolie embodied the role of feminine sex appeal, an intellectual, but could believably kick ass when given the opportunity, something that the new movie lacks in some regards.
The new film is based off of the rebooted Tomb Raider video game franchise that was released in 2013. This game gave us a more vulnerable and less experienced Lara Croft. Stranded on a treacherous Japanese island, Lara, along with her compatriots, must learn to survive this land and it’s deranged occupants. Lara is pushed to her absolute limits; both physically and mentally. The game had a central theme of surviving and what one will do to achieve it, and by the time the end credits must roll and “A SURVIVOR IS BORN” pops across the screen, the player feels the satisfaction of that statement. While I think that Alicia Vikander did a good job of portraying Lara, both in demeanor and her physicality, the overall story let her down in so many ways because of the obligatory choices of the studio.
Let me say first that all of the actors and actresses bring their top notch skills to the table, and there is great setup with Lara’s personality. She is not helpless in a fight, but is not the best pugilist. She is wreckless and cocky, but has the ingenuity and know how to back up that confidence. As an action-adventure film, it is completely functional. However, this good setup could not save this film due to the unoriginal story, and I am not just speaking from the view point of a gamer experienced with the source material, but also from the viewpoint of a lover of the Indiana Jones franchise, namely, The Last Crusade.
The 2018 Tomb Raider film took some very obligatory choices with the story it was adapting to the big screen. The changing of certain characters or the out-right omission of others are baffling to me, but I feel like certain components were just thrown into the film just because they were in the video game. I know that sounds like fan service, but there is a difference between good and bad fan service. Good fan service is making references that only fans would understand, but applied to the story of the film so that the uninitiated would not feel lost or misunderstand why that component was needed within the film. Shallow fan service is a one shot reference that is not implemented well or in any meaningful way to the plot, and only serve as a box to check to legitimize the title of the film.
Tomb Raider (2018) is the latter form in that statement, because of the change or omission of the characters that had personality that players of the game adored, this lessens the movie quite a bit due to Lara not having a proper foil character or characters. The single character that Lara is meant to act against, not including one another character, but that does into spoiler territory, is the boat captain of the Endurance, and while he is given his own motivations for journeying to the island, he is never truly foils with Lara or developed enough for me to relate or even like him. Mathias, the main antagonist, was the antithesis of Lara in the game, but in the film the two characters only share shallow remnants of shared motivations, fighting for their family. While I am dissatisfied with a few omissions, I can stomach it, but the omission of Jona Maiava, who was the heart and soul of the group of survivors, I cannot abide by this certain choice.
I will reiterate, Tomb Raider 2018 is not a bad film, it is just more appealing to a limited audience. This said audience has either never played the Tomb Raider games, which have been out since the mid-nineteen nineties, or never seen the following films: the original Indiana Jones trilogy, Tomb Raider (2001), Tomb Raider and The Cradle of Life (2003), or any other action movies in the past 20 years that follows a treasure hunter. While this seems like a very limited number of the population, it should still be enough to help the studio make its’ money back due to the strong acting, and good stunts. Also with Square Enix, the video game publisher of the Tomb Raider series, backing the film project; a sequel is more than a certainty. However, my fear with this film franchise is that it was just a marketing ploy by said game publisher.
The entire time of watching this film, there was lingering thought that kept digging into my brain, “this makes me want to go play the game”. Once this thought arose to the surface of my consciousness, it brought to another question to the surface; “did Square Enix intend for that to be the case”? It would explain the obligatory choices in the film, and there is a new video game coming soon titled Shadow of the Tomb Raider, that I am sure Square Enix will want to kept the franchise in the public eye to gather more potential buyers to the fan base. If you put all of this together, you probably think that I have a poor opinion of the 2018 Tomb Raider film, however, I am aware that I am wearing a specific shade of nostalgia glasses that have a 20 plus year patina of this particular franchise. Like I have mentioned before, if you are uninitiated with Lara Croft and her adventures, this might be a great way to get started, and hopefully, venture into the past with Tomb Raider to see the franchises’ humble beginnings, rise to fame, fall from grace, and its’ very recent resurrection.