I just got back from seeing Tomb Raider (2018) and… I think I probably saw it so you don’t have to. 

Ok, what do I mean by that? Is Tomb Raider a typical “they should never have made this” video game movie? No. Not even close. As a live action rendition of the 2013 video game, it was somewhere between “ok” and “all right.” It had several missteps, but ultimately, while it wasn’t something like “the video game movie that puts video game movies on the map” or whatever, it did give the Tomb Raider (2013) era property due respect and, unlike so many other movies based on established games or beloved animated series, it pretty much completely avoided embarrassing its source material.

You can do far worse than this Tomb Raider movie. The live action Avatar The Last Airbender was a total embarrassment. Last year’s Ghost in the Shell totally screwed up with some of the most important areas of Motoko Kusanagi’s understanding of her identity. Tomb Raider made no such fundamental errors. 

So, what did Tomb Raider (2018) do right, and what did it do wrong? 

What It Got Right: 

    • It correctly and faithfully portrayed Lara Croft as an smart, independent, tough (but not invincible) character.

Sure, Lara gets beat a couple times in the movie. First, early on in the boxing ring to show that she is tough and scrappy but also small and able to be overwhelmed by a larger opponent. And near the end by the main bad guy who she fights pretty well against but who is just bigger than she is. But, in both of these fights, Lara gets in some good hits and in both of them she comes very close to winning. 

  • While this movie significantly changed and paired down the circumstances surrounding Himiko and her curse, and essentially removed the supernatural element entirely, I think it still did it justice. Part of that was because there’s a nice little twist that Lara realizes at the end. In this telling, Himiko was a queen with some sort of disease that rotted those she came in contact with and drove them mad. So, she organized her servants and army to bury her away on Yamatai to rid her people of her “curse.” Himiko’s selfless act was a neat change from the vengefully evil character behind the game.
  • It had very good, perhaps even excellent, renditions of two of the 2013 game’s most memorable scenes:First, the reaching for the parachute as the old bomber breaks apart scene looked good in live action. It was well shot. It was well acted. It maintained that “Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap.” feel that made it so great in the game. Second, the scene where Lara first has to kill, while a bit different than in the game, is still excellent in the movie. It is certainly the movie’s best scene and Alicia Vikander does a truly terrific job going from fighting for her life, to realizing just what a terrible thing it is that the man she was fighting made her do.
  • While this is not a “funny movie” or even a “Marvel quippy” movie, Lara’s sense of humor worked for me multiple times during the first hour of the movie.

What It Got Wrong:

  • While you spend much of the 2013 game playing a Lara off alone in the wilderness or temple ruins, it was actually something of an ensemble game, with a surprisingly strong cast of secondary characters. From Lara’s mentor Conrad Roth, to Lara’s best friend Samantha Nishimura, to Jonah and Reyes, and Grim, and Alex, the team that Lara journeyed to Yamatai with and fought along side, and occasionally saw killed ended up feeling important and almost like a family. Certainly, this was helped by some of the flashbacks and the voiced journals you could discover while playing the game. By removing these elements, the story and Lara’s actions became smaller and less meaningful.
  • Even though there was a small, decent twist to the reason Himiko was buried on the island, a good deal was lost by removing the supernatural elements from the story.Most notably, in the game Lara and company could not leave the island no matter what they did because Himiko’s power would sink their ship or strike down their plane or helicopter. That gave weight to having to find an actual solution. In the movie, the only reason anyone is trapped on the island is because nobody has a ship or aircraft handy at the moment. So it sorta removed the urgency and the feeling of being helplessly trapped that made the game so interesting.
  • The descent into Himiko’s tomb didn’t work so well because someone (the writers and or the director) decided that they had a well acted daughter and a decent actor as her father… so they might as well shoot for Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.The tomb traps and the not letting the book with all the information fall into the wrong hands felt too much like a poor imitation of The Last Crusade. The puzzles and traps weren’t nearly as iconic and really the whole thing just felt a bit unnecessary. So, the whole sequence from finding the way into the tomb to getting to Himiko’s coffin just sorta dragged where it shouldn’t have.
  • The movie kept cutting back to the boat captain who helps Lara get to Yamatai even though he was entirely disconnected from the plot and happenings for the final 3rd of the movie. While Lara is off playing Indiana Jones in Himiko’s cavern and tomb, this guy is rallying the oppressed workers to go back to Lara’s aid… except neither he nor they are ever actually relevant ever again. We get scenes of him saying “I won’t leave without Lara” when she is nowhere nearby (since she’s deep underground by that point) and he exactly zero ability to help her in any way.Honestly, I think it would have worked better if he’d attacked the guards to cover her escape and then been killed by the main bad guy.
  • There were a few places here and there that you could just kinda tell they didn’t have enough budget.Like the reveal of Hikimo’s burial structure felt a bit underwhelming. When Lara is parachuting through the trees the action felt a bit… indistinct and blurred as if they didn’t have the time or budget to render the tress whipping by in high resolution. This wasn’t too bad, and it felt like they correctly made sure not to reach too far and have things end up looking awful. But, yeah, it was also clear that it would have been nice if they’d had just a bit more to work with.

Ultimately, Tomb Raider (2018) is not a great movie, but it is also not a terrible one. There are better options out there right now if you want to go to the theater. But, at the same time, it is not a cheesy, disrespectful rip-off like so many video game movies are. There are moments of cleverness, fun, and excellent acting. And there are moments where I felt they should have stuck closer to the 2013 game. The movie finishes a bit weaker than it starts, but at the end of the day there’s at least a chance that this thing gets a sequel. Because, at the very least, Alicia Vikander deserves another chance to portray Lara Croft. 

Side Stuff:

  1. There were a couple of bad reviews I saw over the last week that I wanted to call out. In ine the reviewer said:

    Also, for all the talk about female power and badassery, she was being saved by everyone else really often, and always crying.

    I would say this is flat out false. As noted above, Lara is bested in the boxing ring by a fellow fighter. The two appear almost equally matched except the other woman was just a good foot or two taller than Lara and won the match by having more weight and strength to throw around. Then, near the end of the movie Lara almost loses to the bad guy, but this is in the same way that Malcom Reynolds almost loses to the Operative in Serenity. A good, even fight where the bad guy almost wins but then the good guy (or girl in Lara’s case!) breaks free and strikes the winning blow.

    Lara also gets impelled by a large splinter coming down through the trees similar to how she is injured in the 2013 game. And she is in some decent pain because of this for a while until her father is able to patch her wound. But… Lara also strangles and drowns the man hunting for her during this time, so she is hardly helpless and did not need to be saved by anyone.

    Throughout the movie, just like throughout the two recent games, Lara is often at a disadvantage due to the numbers she faces or due to being physically smaller than her opponents. But in terms of tenacity, demeanor, intelligence, cleverness, and all tha? Lara is more than an equal for any other character in the movie.

  2. There were one or two reviews online that made it an issue that this movie is a reboot of the two previous movies and it is a movie based on the 2013 game that is itself a reboot of sorts of the previous games in the Tomb Raider series.To me, that’s backwards thinking. Tomb Raider (2013) is widely considered one of the most successful re-envisionings of a video game character. It took a franchise that was all but dead and brought it back to life in spectacular fashion. And, while I’ve never seen the two previous Tomb Raider movies, they both struck me as perhaps a bit over-sexed, and overly silly. This movie, in contrast, follows in the 2013 game’s excellent portrayal of Lara Croft as a more down to earth character character who is intelligent, resourceful, and physically capable.

    To me, the idea that Tomb Raider (2018) is a rebooted movie based on a rebooted game is actually a big positive in its favor and certainly not the negative that these reviewers made it out to be.