There are many filmmaking practices to master. Screenwriting, directing, lighting, costume design—various virtuosos have conquered these areas of expertise to become the best in the business. But no one in the history of the medium has figured out the impossible: making a good video game adaptation. That does not bode well for the latest attempt at a “Tomb Raider” movie.
The best cinematic stab at a video game is “Assassin’s Creed”, which was mediocre at best. There simply isn’t a single good video game adaptation across movie history. The intrigue and adventure of the “Tomb Raider” games seem like they would lend themselves to an exciting film, given the success of the games’ obvious inspiration “Indiana Jones”—but the Hollywood machine tried and failed twice with Angelina Jolie, and the franchise has been locked away in the crypt of wasted potential for the last decade and a half.
The game series recently rebooted with a compelling revitalization (and far less sexualized version) of its protagonist Lara Croft, shining a light of opportunity on the long-buried movie adaptations. And so, this reboot starring Alicia Vikander claws its way out of the grave, hoping to breathe new life into the story and kick off the Square Enix cinematic universe (that second part is my conspiracy theory. I’ll stop believing it when it’s officially refuted.)
So how does it fare? Well, it’s watchable, which is more than I can say for a host of video game adaptations. It spins an interesting yarn, though its ability to keep you on your toes is mostly attributable to the genre itself: it’s fun to watch an adventure movie for the sake of enjoyable escapism. “Tomb Raider” is at least that.
Though it doesn’t strive to be much else. The screenplay feels like it was written on a corporate mandated deadline: the quickest distance from point A to point B of a scene is a cliché line, so “Tomb Raider” takes no risks in adapting the visceral struggle of the video game reboot. You’ve seen these plot beats before and you could probably predict half the dialogue. For a film about danger, it’s annoyingly safe.
The action hits the same mark: acceptable, but unremarkable. Every time a shot comes close to requiring visual skill, the action cuts to another angle. It’s neither dull nor thrilling—it exists in a purgatory of mild excitement. A bike chase near the beginning is more exhilarating than anything that comes after.
There’s not much explanation for Lara Croft’s exploration and fighting abilities beyond her proclivities for biking and boxing, so her tomb raiding is a bit of a stretch. Thankfully, Alicia Vikander understands this better than the movie does. She’s Lara Croft the woman, exuding pain and fear and uncertainty in the face of danger like anyone would. Her ability to balance natural reactions with supernatural fortitude is striking.
Her character is preposterously lucky, though. Lara should buy every lottery ticket she chances across: ludicrous coincidences allow her to escape death by the skin of her teeth, and she waltzes unintentionally into perfect solutions. The film sucks the craftiness out of Croft. When every obstacle is so easily surmounted, the stakes stay low.
Lara’s skepticism of the tombs’ mystical treasures gives the movie some unpredictability, as it’s unclear whether or not it will embrace the silliness of the games. The closest it comes to this is Walton Goggins’ villain, whose silliness is admirably subtle. Otherwise, “Tomb Raider” sticks to its contemporary guns: playing it safe.