Video game movie adaptations are a fickle beast. The plot is often not the strong point of the games and serves only as a framing device for atmospheric gaming. Translating tone is tricky, and the patchy success of most video game movies is a testament to that. The Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movies went for a James Bond / cool action approach in order to grab the most market which was successful enough.
Since then the games have undergone a gritty reboot, and this latest Tomb Raider movie on Netflix has followed suit.
With ‘gritty reboot’ can often come po-faced seriousness, especially in the choice of the lead star. Thankfully then, Alicia Vikander’s portrayal of Lara tempers the damaged girl misery. There are enough flashes of tone and appropriate humour to make her screen time not an exercise in slogging through suffering. The action is paced to give time to breathe between set pieces. And, unlike the Jolie versions, we get much more into the heart of what makes Lara tick.
The movie digs into Lara’s childhood and abandonment by her father. However, even though this has a clear effect on her growing up the movie smartly does enough to show that Lara was tough and independent from the start. Growing up, her treatment as an equal to the often arrogant men, is something to be expected rather than graciously given to her by her male counterparts.
Movies, in their desperation to showcase feminist credentials, often bash home such a message with patronising force. Tomb Raider has the intelligence to portray Lara as human. She is overly cocky at times and prone to overreaction. And she isn’t the default best fighter despite her hard trained ability. She makes mistakes but is capable, skilled, and intelligent without a token man against which to prove herself.
The plot is predictable but engaging. Absent father mystery leads to the possibility of an ancient and mythical doodat that could kill everyone (of course). Several factions are chasing it down and the accompanying journey and search make for great action throughout. Once we get to the ‘tomb’ itself the following maze of booby traps and puzzles pay pleasing homage to the adventuring nature of the games.
The finale is a superb set piece that pays off all the build-up and actually adds a nice slice of humanity in the process.
Tomb Raider ticks the boxes for a fantastic action film. It's (non-cynically) empowering which successfully avoiding being patronising. Whether or not the movie structure is generally formulaic, the tonal success alone makes the movie a big win in my book. There is some ‘conspiracy’ threads left exposed at the end, so here’s hoping for more!
Words by Michael Record