By now I’m certain that you have one way or another heard about the curse of movies based on video games. You know, the one where movies that are based on video games have bombed at the box office? Yeah, that one. Since then, there has been a presumption that if a movie is based on any type of game, then it will most certainly be a campy, outdated, poorly translated, epic failure of a movie. The question is, does the new Tomb Raider movie fall under that description?
As always, a spoiler alert/tag is in order. So if you have yet to watch the movie or play the game, then its best to save this article first and get back to it once you’re done.
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A disclaimer must be made that this commentary is based on opinion and personal experience, both movie and video game related.
To answer the question on whether Tomb Raider is another casualty of the video games to movie curse, there is a strong feeling that Tomb Raider does not fall in that category. While the movie does have its faults, there’s still a lot going on in the movie that sets it apart from previous iterations of video game movies, as will be discussed below.
Most cinematic adaptations of video games have fairly stayed true to their video game origins or source material. Producers have even gone far enough to declare that the movie is part of the video game canon (looking at you Assassin’s Creed).
While these are valiant and commendable efforts from movie producers and all, there are just some elements of the games that are difficult to translate into the silver screen. If you look at previous movies such as Doom!, Street Fighter (the Chun-Li one), Tekken, and even Need for Speed, you’d see that in the attempt of making these games cinematic, producers and writers had to concoct a story to fit the narrative of the source material. The end-product, as we all know, is a baaaaaaaaaad movie altogether.
Other games have opted to stick to the source material and have somewhat come-up with a decent movie, but still a box-office bomb nonetheless, due to how the elements of the game’s story was utilized and really lost in translation by alienating either the fans of the game, or creating a movie that only fans would love but shun the casual movie-goer, or all in all alienate both the fans and the movie-goers. Again, looking at Assassin’s Creed, there were elements of the game’s rich history that was infused with the movie, but to make it relatable to the casual movie-goer, the story had to be tempered at the expense of the game’s fans and as a result did not give the movie the justice it deserves.
In contrast to Tomb Raider, while fans have been introduced to Lara Croft in previous movies, the movie went back to basics and gave us a stripped-down version of the 2013 Tomb Raider game. It’s stripped-down in a sense that the essential elements of the game’s story was featured in the movie. This in turn gave fans of the game something familiar to work with. Fans were familiar with Mathias and the search for Himiko, they were also familiar with this grounded version of Lara Croft, the one without any advanced technology or weapons, but instead a Lara Croft wielding a pick ax and a bow and arrow; something that gamers have embraced and have gone accustomed to. At the same time, the movie modified the story to make it presentable to the casual moviegoer. It gave viewers an emotional element between the bond of a father and a daughter, it also gave viewers a mystery and adventure evoking previous treasure hunting movies, and it also presented a coming-of-age sort of movie as we see Lara grow before our eyes as the movie progresses.
It can be said that Tomb Raider took note of all the misgivings of previous video game movies, and corrected these errors in an attempt to break away from the curse beset on these types of movies.
One of the tougher elements that a video game needs to hurdle is that balance between making a movie and catering to that videogame feel.
Warcraft, in particular, did a decent job in having that videogame feel, in a sense that it was able to craft the narrative that is present in the Warcraft games. The battles, to an extent, also had that same feel as that of playing the game. Other movies, like Doom or Need for Speed or Prince of Persia, or Hitman Agent 47, or Resident Evil have those little winks or knowing nods to the source material. Whether it be the first person shot in Doom, or the insane races of Need for Speed, or the parkour in Prince of Persia, there are all those little things (but not that much) that gives you a feeling of playing the same game.
Is that a good thing, for the aforementioned movies? Not really. While it serves as an easter egg for gamers, it often feels forced and inorganic. There’s really no subtlety to it or even any reason for those parts to be placed in the movie other than a callback to the game itself. It often comes up as a campy remake of the game to the point of mockery.
The question is, can the same be said for Tomb Raider? The answer is no. The recent reboot of the gaming franchise has effectively made Lara Croft a grounded lead. Several elements, such as crossing a ravine by hanging on a ledge or by swinging from bars, climbing mountain sides using pick axes, using a bow and arrow instead of two semi-automatic hand guns, escaping from falling objects or death for that matter, and the list goes on and on. These elements have been utilized in the movie, and not as knowing nods or what have you, but rather used in a practical way that does not make it feel forced.
In a particular scene, the one where the ship Endurance was about to sink, Lara makes use of hanging bars to cross a part of the ship that was already wrecked to get to the other side to escape death. In this scene, it was the logical way to go for Lara, rather than have her jump over to the other side, or to do something else, it just felt natural and the only way to go about it. Another element that felt essential to Lara’s character and felt natural was her penchant for solving puzzles or riddles. The movie translated this well as there was ample setup to Lara’s ability to solve puzzles, from the puzzle box given to her by her father, to the Himiko thingamajig in the Himiko box, right up to the actual solving of the tomb’s lock, there was a need for that skill that was beautifully integrated in the movie.
Oftentimes, the casting for the main characters either make or break the movie. No matter how well a movie be written or directed or produced, if the lead role was miscast the movie will more than likely fail.
Videogame movies have also fallen to that trope. If there’s one casting choice that trumps all of bad casting choices is that of Jake Gyllenhaal. Casting him as Dastan for the Prince of Persia movie had failure written all over. While Gyllenhaal is a fine actor, there were reservations as to his acting chops when it came to the question of whether he can pull it off. There’s also the lingering issue of whitewashing the character which really didn’t help the movie at all. The result was a forgettable movie and a really big asterisk on Gyllenhaal’s acting record.
On the other side of the spectrum, the original Lara Croft, Angelina Jolie, might have been the most iconic actress to come out of the video game movie genre, aside from Milla Jovovich of course. Before the reboot to Tomb Raider, Angelina Jolie was hailed as the perfect casting choice for Lara Croft with her acting prowess, ability to handle action scenes, and just her overall charm, were more than enough to land her the role. Coincidentally, the Tomb Raider led by Jolie is by far the benchmark for recent video game movies.
Enter Alicia Vikander, the meteoric actress whose star is continuing to rise. After news broke out that she will be the new Lara Croft, tons of fans have given the thumbs up and got excited about her turn as Lara. A few months later when photos and trailers started popping up, and fans of the game have been more than excited to see the movie. Suffice to say, after watching the movie, Vikander has effectively supplanted Jolie as Lara Croft. Vikander expertly navigated Lara’s charming, aloof, gullible personality at the start of the movie and developed it into this kick-ass, strong, intelligent, and scarred person that the game was so successful in crafting. Vikander did this in a span of 2 hours, as compared to a normal game with at least 10 hours of game play. Aside from that, Vikander is the complete package as she was able to handle the subtleties, the emotions, and the acting chops to pull-off the role even in the quietest moments of the movie, and at the same time handle the physicality of playing the part.
The Box Office Appeal
Thanks in large part to the road that the first Tomb Raider movie paved, this reboot of the franchise already has name recognition to it, which other movies did not have. Tomb Raider, while already a well-known commodity in the video game market, has a lot of box office appeal going for it.
The main attraction aside (Tomb Raider itself), the movie is also a draw not only for the male audiences but also to the female audience as well. This is in large part due to similar strong reception from movies with a strong female character (Wonder Woman, Black Panther) that have scored big in the box office. Tomb Raider should be no exception to that, due in large part to Vikander’s performance and how the movie handled her character and gave her this strong character devoid of any sexualization of the character. Sure, Lara may have been running throughout the movie in a tank top, but this was not due to sexualizing Lara, rather it was done tastefully, thus keeping the focus on how tough and badass Lara Croft is.
Aside from this aspect, there’s also the box office appeal due in large part to the movie’s budget. The stunts and action scene itself cries out as a big block buster movie, that if given the chance, will make audiences love and enjoy the movie. Something that most video game movies have had (budget wise), but not exactly getting the desired results.
Over all, there is that hope and belief that Tomb Raider once again has paved the way for a new crop/generation of video game movies. The only difference here is that genre movies may just follow the footsteps of Tomb Raider in coming up with a video game movie worthy of challenging the comic book movie genre.
Did Tomb Raider pave the way for a new crop of video game movies? Or is Tomb Raider a failure? Let us know in the comments section below, or jump over to our Facebook, Twitter , Youtube, and Instagram. or Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Gino is the Gladiators’ resident TV and comicbook aficionado. He is Matt Murdock by profession in the day, without the vigilante crime fighting at night. He believes that the lightsaber is the best weapon during a zombie apocalypse.