For folks not wholly familiar with Tomb Raider (the gaming franchise), fear not—for this review will primarily talk only about Tomb Raider as a film (and briefly the two that came before it). On the contrary, if you are wondering how this compares, feel free to keep reading after the final score if you'd like any input on how this stacks up against its video game counterpart(s).
Tomb Raider is, for all intents and purposes, an origins story—so feel free to forget about 2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie, which, I'm sure, won't be too difficult. Alicia Vikander takes the helm as a young Lara Croft, an athletic, quick-witted Londoner trying to make ends meet while keeping the spirit of her late father alive. After the mysterious disappearance of her father some seven years ago, Lara begins tugging away at the strings of the events surrounding his disappearance only to discover that there may be more to the story than a man simply lost at sea.
To start, Vikander is an exceptional performer as a young tomb raider. Rather than taking the easy route and assuming that audiences already know who Lara is, the opening sequences that establish her (type of) character are where Vikander shines best. She's got just the right amount of grit, perseverance, and a knack for adventure—and these same qualities remain consistent throughout.
Most anything beyond that, however, is where the film starts to falter. Her supporting cast does little more than fill the shoes of one-dimensional archetypes. Daniel Wu, as Lara's leading sidekick, does little more than regurgitate an 8-ball's worth of one-liners, but thankfully, it doesn't impede on any of Lara's lines that follow. The father-daughter dynamic is mostly wholesome, and serves as a gentle reminder of how Lara has changed over the years—it just gets brought up so frequently that some of the wholesomeness is ultimately lost into a dull void of repetition.
In the visual effects department, things tend to vary pretty wildly. A rickety boat in the middle of a roaring ocean underneath the raging tempest of a storm is sure to get your heart racing, and it's moments like these that show the very best of what Tomb Raider is capable of. It's unfortunate. however, that many tense set-pieces like these are broken by odd placements of slow motion and obvious green screening. This isn't to say that I'd rather have seen Lara escape actual traps in actual tombs, but the effects presented have a lack of depth and visual integration that take you out of what would otherwise be a pretty convincing scene that emanates danger. I found that many of the tombs' puzzles and traps to be much less interesting than the intricate, hand-made puzzles that Lara ends up fooling around with through her normal and early life.
Tomb Raider, at the very least, has accomplished what most movies based off of video games could only hope to dream of—cast the perfect main character. Vikander carries the weight of the film, and squeezes every ounce of quality from every scene and line that she's given. The pieces around her, though, are middling at best. It feels as if they wanted to craft a mediocre film, but accidentally casted a phenomenal lead actress. In that, we get glimpses of what good video game to film adaptations can eventually be, leaving viewers with at least an optimistic outlook for the future. Tomb Raider isn't a bad film, but it isn't a good one either. (It sure as heck is better than the two previous attempts at Tomb Raider.) In the pantheon of those that have come, and failed, before it, it's certainly near the top—but to be the best out of a category comprised of hot garbage and friends, isn't necessarily a gleaming compliment.
1-2: Horrendous, wouldn’t recommend watching even if free of charge.
3-4: Potentially has some good ideas, but overall still lackluster.
5-6: Average, a decently good time; go see it if it's free.
7-8: A solid recommendation, and well-rounded film; warrants a purchase after home release.
9: No glaring flaws; deserves to be watched multiple times.
10: Masterful, must-see; filmmaking at its finest.
Still reading? Cool. Those that have played through, or are least familiar with, 2013's Tomb Raider (game) will notice quite a few commonalities between the stellar reboot and this film. Having heavily enjoyed that, I'm sure that there's at least some sort of unconscious part of me that wanted this film to play out similarly to how the game did. That being said, I found that most of the game-y moments of the film (slo-mo jumps and stark declarations that we need to solve puzzles) were its biggest detractors. On the opposite end, the film's opening exposition and character development of Lara is something that I'd find tedious to play out in video game form, but really enjoyed watching. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that there really can't ever be a 1:1 adaptation of video games to movies, and there really shouldn't be. Different formats and mediums suit different types of interactions. Certain instances of the film felt more interactive, when film is a largely passive way to consume. After taking some time to think (yay!), I found it less about good and bad overall, and more about good and bad fits.
Maybe the dream scenario would be to hire a renowned director and have them write a script strikingly similar to an existing game franchise, and then just rebrand it along the way. "You thought you were writing Indiana Jones 5? Surprise motherfucker, we changed up the names, and now it's Uncharted." /endrant