‘Based on the hit videogame’ is a sentence that has never inspired more hope than trepidation in movie marketing. Generally speaking, these films are quickly produced cash-ins on a popular medium that Hollywood simply doesn’t seem to understand. Even the most prestigious game movies, like Duncan Jones’s Warcraft and Justin Kurzel’s Assassin’s Creed, can’t come close to bringing the excitement of interactive media to the big screen, and, sadly, the new Tomb Raider joins the well-intentioned failure club. Hewing too close to its, already very cinematic, source material of the 2013 reboot of the game series, it fails to justify its own existence, especially as it actually does a worse job of telling the story.
Sticking to the game’s story, Roar Uthaug’s adaptation shows us Lara Croft’s (Alicia Vikander) origin story as a fledgling action-archaeologist on the fictional remote Japanese island of Yamatai. Her aristocrat father Richard Croft (Dominic West) went missing on the island years beforehand, searching for some ancient mystical weapon, and now it’s up to Lara to finish his mission and thwart evil archaeologist Vogel (Walton Goggins) along the way. It’s incredibly faithful to the source – some action sequences are shot for shot recreations of the game – but this slavish devotion proves fatal.
Even over the course of eight hours, Lara’s transformation from highly capable but empathetic adventurer into a remorseless slaughter machine felt sudden. Scraped down to 90 minutes (the first half hour is wasted in a rather embarrassing London-set caper), this problem becomes even more glaring, and all believable character development is ditched in service of the action. Vikander brings a fierceness to the role, and it is refreshing and valuable to see a female action hero entirely un-sexualised, but the complete lack of commitment to character means every actor ends up fighting the script.
West is horribly wasted and Daniel Wu, as Lara’s co-expeditionary Lu Ren, gets stuck in a pointless quagmire of a subplot that goes for an inexplicable emotional climax long after the audience, and the film itself, has forgotten about it. Goggins acquits himself with some steely dignity as the pragmatic antagonist, helped by the fact that he has to contend with fewer cheesy one-liners and frantic rants about Death Queens than the rest of the cast. Uthaug handles the action competently and there are some grisly demises, but very wobbly visual effects sink the more spectacular set-pieces even though the stunt and sound teams are doing good work.
Tomb Raider has neither the skill to successfully adapt the game nor the charm to be an easy-watch Indiana Jones imitator. With very little competition, it is technically one of the better videogame movies (and an improvement on the Angelina Jolie takes on the material), but never musters up the quality to shake the feeling of pointlessness that pervades most scenes. We’re still waiting for the first actually good game movie, but with this as the latest in a string of high-profile, well-cast failures, we must surely be nearing the end of studios’ patience with the genre.