Home Reviews ‘Tomb Raider’: How to Translate Video Games to Big Screen

‘Tomb Raider’: How to Translate Video Games to Big Screen

written by Damian Gordon March 16, 2018
Lara Croft in Tomb Raider movie

Lara Croft has been characterized as cocky, confident, and another c-word in past iterations. She doesn’t take crap from anyone and gets what she wants. Now, she adds a more badass yet vulnerable side that makes me care if she survives diving off any mountain cliffs in Tomb Raider.

This movie is based on the 2013 video game of the same name, following a young Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) as she searches for her lost father who went missing on an expedition. She will encounter and conquer trigger-happy mercenaries, dangerous weather climates, and generic writing.

Is it just me or is this “find your daddy” month for movies with female leads? A Wrinkle in Time just had the same driving force for its plot and now we’re at it again a week later.

One Woman Army

Lara Croft aiming her arrow in Tomb Raider

Lara is supposed to be intelligent and she is for the most part until the movie needs to dumb her down to extend its run-time. The movie could have wrapped up at many points if she used a bit of thinking.

It would have gone a long way if Tomb Raider spent some time developing the characters. 90% of the time is spent on Lara and the other 10% is divided among everyone else. The lack of solid characters makes for empty stakes as the prisoners and mercenaries are expendable red-shirts.

Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) is the boozed-up ship captain that accompanies Lara’s adventure, injecting playful banter with her and levity in the film. Seeing a side story with him and the other prisoners would have helped to fill out the plot. For being so charismatic and the second most important protagonist in the film, he barely gets screen time.

The story takes a bit to kick into gear as we watch Lara be a bike delivery girl for a while.  The majority of that could have been cut as there was nothing that couldn’t be conveyed on the island.

Walton Goggins as Mathias in Tomb Raider

Villain Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) is the leader of the mercenary excavation team (and prisoners) and he chases Lara since she might finally be his ticket off the island. Vogel doesn’t want to be there anymore, but so does actor Goggins as he looks so checked-out since they gave him nothing to work with.

In the game, he is a religious cult leader and an overall bad guy you couldn’t wait to put an arrow in. Vogel’s characterization here is that he has a southern accent and studied hard on “how to be a generic action villain 101”. All the tropes are here: killing people for no reason, loose motivations, questionable hairstyle, and gun-toting henchman from the school for the blind.

Lara is the only fleshed-out one, which takes some suspense from the tomb’s dangerous traps at the end. Most other characters don’t get a name and when they die, while awesomely gruesome, you just don’t care.

She is also put through the wringer, but not as roughly as in the game because that was “college dorm bed” rough. Vikander carries the whole project. She is not only charming but also sympathetic as she throws her body into every brutal fight.

Lara Croft opening a door in Tomb Raider

Trade the Puzzles for Bullets

Not everything translates well with Lara trying to solve a puzzle to open the tomb and it is kind of awkward. It is as exciting as watching a janitor fumble for the right key to a closet. This would be more engaging if the audience were playing it in the game.

Really the tomb sections should have been the main course since they were the most engaging parts. The film shines in the damp darkness of the tombs, taking on a horror atmosphere. The movie has tight action with the shootout in the forest as a prime example. Bullets whiz past on screen, cutting trees to pieces as our heroes barely dodge them.

I wouldn’t be able to recite any line from Tomb Raider because it can be found in any 90’s action flick. Honestly, after a while, dialogue turned into the “wah wah” noise from Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Game Brought to Life on the Big Screen

There are a lot of sharp colors that are reminiscent of the game throughout the run-time. These colors also have a muted filter, which adds to Lara’s feeling of isolation.

Tomb Raider locations at times felt like a set, such as a dig site or parts of the tomb. The final room of the tomb reminded me of being at Universal waiting in The Mummy line. The tomb uses its limited space effectively. I thought it was going to be Macaulay Culkin in the sarcophagus because of all the cool traps suddenly taking people out Home Alone-style. However, the island seemed small, akin to shooting in a backyard rather than a dangerous sprawling location.

A mix of practical and CGI effects work great together and make huge moments like the storm extra significant. The sea crashed against the ship, while Lara and Lu Ren fought intensely for their lives.

‘Tomb Raider’ Overall

Lara and Lu Ren walking in forest from Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider tries nothing new and serves for a fun matinee at the theater. It told a simple story that would have benefited from a punch-up writer and better relevant action at the start.

It took elements from the game, mainly the survival aspect and tomb exploration, and made them the strongest selling points. Although there was not a lot of either, what is there does help to build the journey. There is rich material to take from and with a new game announced, I hope future films will be further influenced.

What other games do you want to see on the big screen? Do you like this new Lara better than the old one? Leave your comments!

 


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