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Movies & TV

16th Mar 2018

Try as it might, the new Tomb Raider still makes the same big mistake as every other video game movie

Rory Cashin

Better than you feared, but still not as good as we’d hoped.

When the first Tomb Raider video game was released in 1996, it involved the independently wealthy archaeologist Lara Croft solving puzzles and fighting a T-Rex (yes, for real) in order to stop an ancient rule from the Lost City Of Atlantis from being born and attempting to take over the modern world.

In the first Tomb Raider movie, released in 2001, Angelina Jolie seemed like the perfect casting choice for the role, keeping the majority of the character beats, but dropping the T-Rex (it would be replaced, nonsensically, by a giant robot named SIMON) and switching Atlantis for the more modern threat of the Illuminati.

Despite coming from the director of Con Air, the movie was a critical flop (19% on Rotten Tomatoes) but it made enough of a profit ($274.7 million on a $115 million budget) to warrant a sequel.

The Cradle Of Life arrived in 2003, from the director of Speed, and with a smaller budget ($95 million), smaller worldwide box office ($156.5 million), but a slightly better critical reaction (24% on Rotten Tomatoes).

And that was that for the movies.

The games powered on – there have been 17 to date – but there was a while there when they, too, had faded from popularity.

Then came the 2013 gritty reboot of the series, in which we play a much younger Lara Croft, just getting to grips with her natural abilities at raiding tombs. There were no T-Rexs or anything overtly fantastical… y’know, except for a weird island that makes ships crash on its shores, and a cult that wants to bring an ancient Goddess back to life.

It was a massive hit, and re-ignited the love for the games series, especially in the footsteps of the Uncharted series, from which it both gave and received inspiration.

Since gritty reboots are all the rage right now, Hollywood didn’t take long in seeing the opportunity to make money from a well-known property, and so the new movie was put in place.

Just like last time, an Oscar-winner was put in the lead role, and to be fair to her, Alicia Vikander does completely throw herself into the role. While mostly known for emotional dramas (The Danish Girl, The Light Between Oceans) or thrillers in which her characters had little to no action (Ex Machina, Jason Bourne), Vikander piled on the muscle weight and attempted to do as many of the stunts as her producers would allow, and creates enough of an emotional connection on screen for us to genuinely enjoy her company.

Director Roar Uthuag also tries his best to make the action scenes as exciting as possible, with a prolonged shoot-out / river-chase / waterfall sequence being highly reminiscent of a certain scene from Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

Try as he might though, he just cannot direct around the immovable object that is the movie’s screenplay. Written by the same guy who gave us Snow White & The Huntsman, Divergent and the 2014 gritty reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it attempts to both slave itself to the plot of the rebooted video game, but can’t seem to build up the courage to break away from being another run-of-the-mill action-adventure blockbuster.

And therein lies the problem.

Video games almost entirely consist of a player controlling a single character through various locations. Often they’ll be shooting bad-guys, sometimes they’ll cross paths with someone else who they’ll have an in-game conversation with, but 99% of the time, it is a single person, heading in a singular direction, by themselves.

For the majority of the new Tomb Raider movie, just like the last two Tomb Raider movies, just like every other movie based on a video game, the lead character is lumbered with supporting characters, as the writer or producer or director fears that an audience cannot cope with the idea that a character being alone for any amount of time.

You know what the best video game movie is? Gravity.

Yes, we know, it isn’t actually based on a video game, but it might as well be.

A single character for the majority of the film, attempting to navigate a dangerous terrain, with a countdown clock and a almost linear map laid out in front of goals to achieve before they can get to the end.

Throw in a few people for Sandy B to shoot along the way, and a controller for the viewer to play with, and you’ve essentially got 95% of video game plots.

Movies with a single character for the majority of the run-time aren’t all that rare – Cast Away, 127 Hours, Phone Booth, Locke, I Am Legend, Life Of Pi, Moon, Buried, The Shallows – so quite why producers are so allergic to the idea of taking the risk of making a video game adaptation with just one character doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.

Because as we stand, video game movies are still lacking a single decent entry, with Tomb Raider joining the upper echelons of “nearly-but-not-quite-good-enough” entries like Assassin’s Creed, Prince Of Persia and the first Resident Evil.

The next attempt is Rampage, due out this April, and if The Rock can’t make a video game movie work, then we’re not sure anyone can…

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