Lara Croft has always been the subject of debate. In her earliest incarnation she was a copy and paste of that Indiana Jones archetype–unshakably cool and witty. Despite her perfect disposition as a video game protagonist virtually none of her past endeavors truly appreciated how cool she was only noted her body and unattainable image. That changed (mostly) when Square Enix got their hands on the Tomb Raider series with their reboot in 2012. The new Lara Croft isn’t just an ultra wealthy woman with a penchant for guns and dry British wit, when Lara is initially stranded on the island she’s a fresh-faced young woman on a journey to discover what happened to her father and by the end of the game she’s not only an ultra-cool bad ass but a well-developed character that evolved under what seems to be an insurmountable level of pressure, she even starts the game with a broken leg. Progressing through the game and watching the evolution of Lara throughout her tumultuous adventures was a truly rewarding experience, when Lara is forced to kill someone for the first time she breaks down crying stricken with grief over what had just transpired. This is the version Lara Croft that the big screen deserved.
The 2018 film takes heavily from the 2013 reboot game of the same name. In both, Lara Croft goes on a quest to find Yamatai and Himiko, the first empress of Japan and the “goddess of death” after her father’s disappearance. There are scenes that are virtually plucked from the game like a lot of them. The movie feels like an abridged version of the game minus the adrenaline pumping quick-time events which really just made me want to just play the game instead. Vikander makes for a fine Lara and nails both the vulnerability and badassery displayed by the newest rendition of Croft but because the film almost just the game itself it feels like an unskippable cutscene if you’ve already played the game. Unfortunately, the best parts of the game are nowhere to be found. The elements of mysticism, isolation, and loss that played so heavily into the story are virtually nonexistent.
Due to a change in the supporting characters from the game to film the ending to the film is by far less emotionally gripping than the end of the game on which it was based. Around the second half of the film it becomes bogged down by the subpar changes and forces Lara into a tertiary role in her own film. Tomb Raider is all of the action of the game with little of the character. With Himiko and the lost city being more of an idea than an antagonistic force Vikander is left to face Walton Goggins’ character Mathias Vogel, a Trinity treasure hunter hellbent on finishing his search for Himiko so he can go home to the family he hasn’t seen in seven years. Goggins is a great actor and does well in his role but it’s pretty standard fare for an action movie.
Tomb Raider’s initial adherence to the excellently crafted story of the game could have made this film the definitive depiction of Lara on the big screen. However, several miscues prevent it from being great. Too often Lara is pushed aside in her own film but when the action comes she really shines. If you want a great Lara Croft experience you do better just playing the game it was based on.