Hollywood’s track record on adapting video games to film has been terrible. There has yet to be a live-action video game movie that takes both the source material seriously and make a film that delivers a decent cinematic experience. It’s been more than 2 decades since Super Mario Bros. came out and we’re still waiting for that one good movie based on a popular video game property as all of them have been stinkers. There may be some that we can enjoy in a “so bad that it’s good” kind of way but that still means they’re bad.
With that being said, I’m happy to report that the latest Tomb Raider film, starring Alicia Vikander, is probably the best video game adaption ever. Then again, with the genre’s incredibly terrible batting average, that’s not saying much.
While this movie has been out for a good while in the Philippines and other South East territories, I know that it hasn’t been released out in the West yet. So there’s a really good chance that you’re reading this review without having seen Tomb Raider yet. As such, this will be a SPOILER FREE review.
Tomb Raider follows Lara Croft, a young woman who has been living a rather reckless life after the disappearance of her father 7 years ago. She finds out that her father has been living the life of an adventurer and his last journey was to find the location of the lost tomb of Himiko, Japan’s first queen and who is said to have the power over death itself. Lara sets out to find the tomb and, hopefully, her father in the process.
This new film is based on the rebooted Tomb Raider game franchise and it shows. There are a lot of similar set pieces and action sequences that are strongly based from the new games and, as someone who enjoyed them, it’s highly appreciated. It does show that the film makers decided to closely follow the best elements from the new games. The best thing about them is that they don’t feel shoehorned in and the overall flow of the story does follow traditional action films. While this does make Tomb Raider actually feel like a decent movie, it does make it really unremarkable. It’s strangely reminiscent of action movies from the early ’90s. The plot is a paint-by-numbers experience and, while there are a few plot twist or two, they’re very predictable and unsurprising.
While the overall story of Tomb Raider is rather bland, the character development and pacing is actually well done. This new Lara Croft isn’t the buxom seasoned adventurer we saw in the earlier Tomb Raider movies and games. Here, Lara Croft is incredibly athletic and smart but inexperienced with the comings and goings of being a raider of tombs. Throughout the film, you do see her grow from being a rather spoiled brat to the shadow of the great adventurer. The best thing about watching her grow is that the film never hits you over the head with it. Rather, it chooses to take a break from the action and show it in the more quieter scenes.
This is thanks to some really good acting by the entire cast. They’re not really Oscar caliber performances but everyone does come off as believable in one way or another. Alicia Vikander does a good job of portraying the new and younger Lara Croft. A lot of the weight actually falls on Alicia Vikander’s muscular shoulders as you do see her start off as a brash and cocky girl to someone who becomes a smart and strong woman by the closing moments of the film. Bit players like Kristen Scott Thomas as Lara Croft’s default guardian and Daniel Wu as the captain who takes Lara to the island also give really good performances. I do have to give special mention to Walton Goggins, who plays Mathias Vogel, the primary antagonist of the film. He gives off a pretty creepy performance and, while he doesn’t seem like an imposing figure, he does make up for it with his insanity from being stuck on the island for 7 years.
The action sequences is a hodgepodge of both good and bad. The ones that involve Lara running around or overcoming obstacles are generally fun and exciting. They always feel rather tense and you can always see the action. The sense of pacing is also generally good when it comes to those set pieces. Like I said earlier, a lot of these scenes were borrowed from the game and they look awe-inspiring in live action. The fight scenes, however, are messy and hard to follow. That’s because they use a lot of shaky cam to make it look hectic but it actually comes off as amateurish as a result. What makes it worse is that they stick out like a sore thumb since the action setpieces that don’t involve fighting look gorgeous by comparison.
Like the action scenes, the special effects are a mixed bag as well. I’m not sure how big of a budget this new Tomb Raider got, but there are definitely some times when it looks like some cheaply put together direct-to-DVD production. The last 20 minutes of this 118 minute long film definitely looks like it was shot in some dim soundstage somewhere. Yet, there are some really good looking outdoor scenes, like the one with the plane (which was mostly CGI from what I understand), looked totally believable. It still mostly looks good but those final 20 minutes really took me out of the experience.
Even with all of its flaws, I did come out of the new Tomb Raider film strangely satisfied. I do know that a big part of why I enjoyed it is because of how it keeps the tone and atmosphere of the rebooted games. But, as a whole, the film does seem like it can stand up on its own and not rely on the viewer having any knowledge of the new games. The film is very enjoyable and the performances of Alicia Vikander and Walton Goggins really impressed me. It certainly didn’t hurt that you actually see the main character grow by leaps and bounds.
I will even go as far as to say that the 2018 Tomb Raider film is the best Hollywood adaptation of a video game movie to date. Then again, most video game movies do suck. But Tomb Raider seems like it’s a huge step and a jump over a chasm in the right direction.
Have you seen the latest Tomb Raider film? What do you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!