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Video games have always had it bad when it comes to live-action feature film adaptations. For whatever reason, few, if any, have ever really cracked the formula to become an unquestionable success critically and commercial. Assassin's Creed was one of last year's most high-profile examples, and even with star power in the form of Michael Fassbender, it still landed with a thud. This year the big release is the Tomb Raider reboot starring Alicia Vikander, which holds a lot of promise. However, recent trailers have only illuminated a concern that this writer has about the movie: that it's sticking far too close to the video game on which it's based.
This Tomb Raider movie reboot is primarily based on a different Tomb Raider reboot. In 2013, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix launched a reboot of the Tomb Raider video game series. Tomb Raider followed a younger Lara Croft still finding her way in the world and not quite raiding tombs just yet. The story found Lara trapped on a mystical island and forced to survive against an army of cultists with nothing but her will, her wit, and a whole lot of explosions. It's a pretty sweet game, and a logical choice to base a new film franchise off of, but from the looks of the trailers, director Roar Uthaug and his team copied and pasted the game into Adobe Premiere.
It's important to remember that trailers are often not reflective of the movie as a whole. They are simply a marketing tool to get butts in seats, and the marketing of Tomb Raider seems to be selling two things: Lara Croft as a kick-ass action hero (which it absolutely should do) and that if you like the game, you'll like the movie. But haven't enough video game movies taught us that the latter isn't necessarily true? Sticking too close to the source material starts to be more of a crutch than an advantage at some point.
Those familiar with the game should immediately recognize several elements playing out in the movie. Lara Croft's outfit, her weapons, and whole action set pieces are lifted straight from the game. Lara making her way across a perilously perched rusted airplane; leaping from a sinking ship into a raging ocean; parachuting uncontrollably through a forest; and a fall into some fast-paced rapids are all set pieces from the game that can be found in the movie trailers.
Following the basic plot of the game and taking aesthetic inspirations is one thing. There's no rule in filmmaking that says you can't use the pieces of something else to help assemble your own film. Otherwise, Quentin Tarantino wouldn't be a thing. But the trailers are making it look like chunks of the game were replicated frame by frame for the movie. It's reaching a point where if the movie is just going to be the game, then why shouldn't people just play the game instead of seeing the movie? If the movie is just offering players most of what they've already seen, then there hardly seems to be a point in making a movie at all. True, Tomb Raider is going to attract a lot of viewers who haven't played the game and don't notice the similarities, but maybe there's something to be said about flexible creativity and films needing to do more than just mimic the source.
There's also an argument to be made that what works for a video game may not work in a film. That's probably one of the chief reasons that most video game movies just don't work. Tomb Raider is a very cinematic game, but it's still a video game where the player controls Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) and decides everything that happens to her. Player immersion is a huge factor in what makes video games successful. There's a certain thrill to successfully navigating her through an enemy stronghold without raising the alarms. As exciting as it may be to watch that same scene unfold in a movie, it's not going to have the exact same feeling as it did in the game. That's just the effect of it being two different mediums.
In the Tomb Raider movies defense, it has taken certain liberties with the game. Daniel Wu's character is an entirely new addition to the movie, and several supporting characters from the game don't seem to be appearing in the same form. There's also been some added content between Lara and her father, the latter of whom is now a bit more important to the plot. In the film, he's connected to Walton Goggins' bad guy, Matthias (who is also re-jiggered from his game counterpart), and Lara's father directly tasks her with stopping Matthias and his group, Trinity. Trinity, by the way, did not really show up until the video game's sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, but they've been upgraded for the movie.
It's entirely possible that I'm wrong and Tomb Raider isn't just the video game with new paint on it. I'd be really happy if that were the case because I want this to be good. I can't really blame the movie for wanting to be the game because the game is really good! If it ain't broke don't fix it, but a movie needs to do more to justify itself. I can play Tomb Raider anytime I want. Why should I go see the movie when all it seems to be doing is giving me what I've already got?