Note: I’m not lying when I say I’m taking the new Alicia Vikander version just as seriously people did with Wonder Woman last year. My hopes are a mess consisting of “I hope they’re faithful,” “I hope they get her right,” “I hope it’s not too serious,” and “I hope it’s not Assassin’s Creed.”
Rating: C. But… don’t be fooled. I. Love. This. Movie.
Summary: A young archaeologist seeks to complete her father’s last mission.
I am dead serious about this and I warn you- this is looooong. I grew up with Lara Croft and I love the new series. I love Lara Croft: Tomb Raider despite its wackiness, thin script, teleportation transportation, magical MacGuffins, and (minus Angelina Jolie) bad acting. It’s at the top of my list for successful video game adaptations and one of my all-time favorites.
To put it very simply, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is one of those movies you scoff at and think, “This is absolutely ridiculous. I can’t watch this,” but after the first act, you’re having a great time. Then when it ends, you feel ultimately satisfied and walk away thinking, “Hey, that was… a lot of fun.” There’s something about its revel in the absurd and overall presentation that just works. It’s a movie that makes complete sense without making any actual sense.
Granted, this first movie came out when the original Tomb Raider games were falling into their decline but also cemented the image we generally associate the name Lara Croft with. Lara was initially conceived by Toby Gard to bring more to the early 90’s buxom Baywatch type models, her looks were supposed to captivate players to some extent (meaning, get the disk in the tray to see all the fuss), but 10 minutes into the game they were supposed to forget about her looks, focus on her abilities, and empower her (yes, through a controller) to achieve a task. Alas.
After the first game, a different game development company took over and switched everything up in favor of Lara Croft: Sex Symbol and bad games were churned out to present Lara in new outfits and suggestive poses, along with shower scenes and codes for nudity. For a long time, the character was dismissed as eye candy for boys and the character was trampled… THEN the 2013 reboot Tomb Raider came out, giving us a version of Lara the way I’ve always viewed her- a young, scrappy, hungry adventure seeker who lives to explore. She was not only taken seriously, but she was engaging and fun to play again. To have the 2013 version put Lara Croft: OG Lady Game back in the good graces of gaming where she belongs, now rightfully being seen as a feminist icon, and have a movie based on this character- it’s kind of a big deal. For me, anyway.
Though I adore it, I admit it’s easy to see why audiences and even fans would write this movie off. Based on the poster, Angelina Jolie’s enhanced assets, and my above whining, you would think I absolutely hate the 2001 version of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, but that’s not the case. Like the game and its main character, the movie is more than its initial presentation and it’s so weirdly, absurdly, consistently, entirely engaging. They put all their eggs in the fun basket for this. This is a popcorn movie meant to entertain on a lot of different, non-serious levels- and it succeeds.
For starters, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider makes expert work of fan service and nods to the game. A lot of video game adaptations can take its lead- they found the reasons why people loved this series (in this case, the main character and her traits) and built everything around them instead of shoehorning it in the other way around. No joke, everything familiar from the game is shoved out within the opening scene in the training room, which establishes the tone and satisfies the game’s fans early on so we can move on to the MacGuffin. She does a couple of jumping flips directly from the game controls, the shorts appear, the shower, plenty of “hm” moments, and the butler’s tray appears more than once. Later, we get some references that don’t directly affect/distract from the story, while also adding further character development and amusement to longtime fans of the game, including the “ah ha!” sound bite, automatic vacuuming backpack, and reloading mechanism. This is exactly how staple game moments or references to original source material should be used instead of convoluting the story.
You can tell there’s more time and attention devoted to executing Lara’s spirit and this is such fun to watch. Success is mostly thanks to Jolie, who perfectly embodies the character and brings much more to the role that one would assume in a video game adaptation. Jolie is so good in this role that the poor quality of the script isn’t instantly noticeable and she even adds a bit of legitimacy to the movie. I don’t care how many actresses were considered according to IMDB- she is the only one who could have pulled this movie off and made it good. Jolie absolutely nails everything, from gun flips to head tilts, with a “hm” here and there. Props to director Simon West for ensuring those moments. The script isn’t great and there are some really bad lines, but Jolie delivers with just enough internalization and vulnerability to give the movie more of an emotional arc than typically associated with this kind of movie.
It helps that the movie is very tongue-in-cheek about Lara’s physique and even parodied to an extent. Sure, breast padding was added but it’s never pointed out. It’s just there. Her shorts are featured only briefly, there’s a quick shower sequence and sideboob that later hates on shower scenes but other than that- her looks aren’t commented on by the other male characters and she’s wearing practical athletic gear. In a brief shot of her Mark Zuckerberg-inspired closet (you might have been distracted by the sideboob), we see only three different kinds of shirts- Lara doesn’t give a crap about what she wears and she’ll either laugh at you or knock you out if you make a pass at her. It’s these little details- the closet, the eyebrow raises, her chuckles- that give us Lara. She’s a focused adventure seeker and ultimate badass, and is so uniquely aware and confident of her capabilities. It’s exhilarating to watch a woman who is not only determined but prepared and resourceful.
As the majority of the time is devoted to fleshing out our heroine, we get a MacGuffin driven story and it’s a pretty bad one at that. The script is terrible though it has moments of sheer brilliance, including a posturing scene with GOT’s Iain Glen. There’s an artifact the Illuminati is after, Lara’s father set out to protect it, statues can move… Giggling children who don’t serve any purpose just show up and interact… Jolie sprints up a pyramid… Whatever. Just accept that the triangle is magical because it’s called a magical triangle. Accept that it can turn back time because they say it can.
The villains and story exist to serve the character of Lara and the unrealistic action is totally watchable. Considering that it’s based on a fairly ridiculous video game, I’m willing to overlook the laws of physics here including dropkicks, a motorcycle-tailspin-knockout, drive-by pistol whips, bungee jump fights, screwdriver guns, and trachea chops. Where else but in a video game movie would any of this be acceptable!?!? LET US REVEL IN THE GLORY. On top of that, the action is… pretty good. They really did choreograph this to showcase Lara’s moves and highlight her attitude. There are so many shots where you can tell they just wanted to make her look cool. There’s nothing wrong with any of it. You’ll be won over, trust me.
Given the choice, I would watch Lara Croft: Tomb Raider over any other video game adaptation and also a lot of other action adventure movies. Not only does the movie capture the essence of the game brilliantly, but also understands its concept and Gard’s intentions with the character. It’s a shame that this movie typically gets overlooked because of its genre and the franchise’s low points- it has a lot of good things to take away from it.
I am simultaneously dreading the new movie while also really looking forward to it. A lot has changed since the release of the reboot in 2013- while the visuals are very similar to the game, I’m concerned about the tone getting the heavy Superman treatment. There’s also the portrayal of Lara that worries me- I hope she still enjoys adventure in the moment instead of this turning into an ultra-serious movie. I just want to see those glimmers of excitement when presented with a really grand task rather than everything seeming so dire. I hope I have as much fun watching her as when I play the game. I get that there’s going to be a difference in expectations and events due to the change in the series and I’m all for it; I’m just hoping that her character’s defining spirit and passion isn’t lost- at the very heart, Lara hasn’t changed at all.
Here’s hoping. [cringe]