If there’s one thing that Hollywood has yet to do entirely right, it’s video game movies. Whether it’s the nature of the material being adapted or the misinterpretation of it, there seems to almost be a curse on adapting anything video game related into a film. What’s a true shame is that it could be done right, but for some reason nobody can quite explain, it just never is.
Adapted from the recent rendition of the Tomb Raider/Lara Croft video game series – Tomb Raider follows the story of Lara Croft as she makes for an expedition to the lost island of Yamatai in order to find her father, who has been missing for 7 years.
While many video game film adaptations attempt to divert from the same story structure of the game itself Tomb Raider dives in directly attempting to capture the dark survivalist tone that was so prevalent in the video game adaptations. The film takes the majority of the base story arcs that the video game provided and makes them watchable in movie format, essentially working as a shot-for-shot remake turned live-action more than a standard adaptation. We get the basic three arc structure with lots and lots of exposition; originally the video game was built to be just an origin story, this film takes it a step further and adds an origin story within an origin story, meaning a large portion of the film is entirely exposition about Lara’s life. This film had potential given risks were taken, it was difficult to see many of the interesting themes get scrapped, as the video game wore an R rating due to its heavy themes and content, mostly violence and hints at sexual violence leaving a chilling feeling during the story development. Had this film taken a risk and pushed towards a more grounded, dark, and tragic story who knows where we’d be today. Sadly audiences receive a standard re-cut and Hollywoodized version leaving nothing for intensity and not much to be desired in terms of originality.
One of the few reasons I was able to keep our eyes fixated on the screen was due to the broad range of emotions that Alicia Vikander was able to provide, it was difficult to see her talent go to waste, Vikander could have packed even more intensity into a well written story if she had able to, though she gave plenty considering the poor material offered. Walton Goggins plays the villain and despite offering some uniquely characteristic performances in recent years he plays a fairly standard villain with “personal issues” that go under the radar and are left in the dirt. Attempting to add depth to a villain is perfectly fine, but it must be done with intent and care. We also get a supporting role from Dominic West as Richard Croft (Lara’s father), while he is by no means a bad actor his role felt flat and a little unnecessary considering this is meant to focus on Lara and her development. Daniel Wu plays a supporting role as somewhat of a companion for a short period, his role was used to add variety and stands as nothing more than a piece of contextualisation to make the story feel more whole. Daniel Wu was however fairly charismatic, he can act and he can play a good supporting role but sadly the writing is where this films falls and everyone suffers the consequences.
While story and dialogue is the Achilles heel of this film, oftentimes the visual aesthetics were equally disjointing, from the dizzyingly cluttered editing that plastered in quick-cuts and shaky-cam in normal dialogue scenes, to the hazy and disorientating cinematography where many scenes became increasingly difficult to follow. The CGI had multiple immersion breaking moments, shattering any sense of a real environment when fuzzy jungles and blurry backdrops came into frame, much of this film was behind a green screen when it didn’t need to be. Out of all of the visual issues the lighting reigns king, rarely utilizing the beauty of an environment while opting for a green screen, this film had great potential to use real locations with grittiness, mystery, and fear, instead we get another blurry mess of CGI.
Vikander came ready and focused on making a good film, she helped make the film watchable but those responsible for making the film compelling and interesting offered resoundingly nothing in return. While lead actress Alicia Vikander provides a compelling performance, Tomb Raider struggles to live up to the video games gritty re-imagined tone; lacking mystery, originality, and that edge-of-your-seat intensity that makes a classic adventure so entertaining.