Hollywood has been working for years to try and turn successful video games into successful movies. While they have been met with limited success, these studios have yet to really make a movie that has won over audiences on a broad scale. The most recent effort, Tomb Raider, was not the first great video game movie that so many of us have been waiting for, but it was the closest that we have come so far, and it was clearly a step in the right direction. It certainly qualifies as the best movie based on a game so far.
Tomb Raider wasn't perfect, but it was good. That by itself puts the movie above nearly all its competition. There are several things that Tomb Raider did right in making the transition from the video game to the theatrical release. Here are a few of them.
A Strong Lead Performance
If there's one thing that most of the reviews have agreed on, even those that didn't love the film, it's that whatever faults Tomb Raider has, Alicia Vikander is not one of them. The actress puts forth a strong performance as the new Lara Croft and is able to make her a believable action hero while also making her a relatable character. This is a Lara Croft you want to see overcome the odds, and you want to see just how she does it. It's possibly the best performance ever in a video game based film. She not phoning it in and she's not over the top. This is an "action hero" character to be sure, but not a character from a video game who is all powerful. This is what happens when you talk Oscar winners into playing video game characters.
It's A Real Adaptation
Previous video game movies have frequently taken the key characters and elements of a game and created a mostly original story. In many cases, this is necessary because actual narrative elements in the games being adapted were minor, if they existed at all. Tomb Raider, however, is a true adaptation of the plot of the 2013 video game of the same name. The movie takes creative liberties and does make changes, but generally the story follows the one created by Rhianna Pratchett for the game, and honestly, the places where it changes that story the most is where the movie falters. Direct adaptations are not necessary to make good movies, but this is a sign that video game stories have evolved to a point where real adaptation is possible where it really wasn't before. This is a movie truly based on a video game, not just borrowing bits and pieces, and it's better for it.
A Simple Story Helps
One of the criticisms of Tomb Raider has been that the story isn't anything we haven't seen before, and this is true, but in many ways that helps the movie. Video games are designed to take players significantly more hours to complete than your average film. That allows games to craft massive worlds while still giving them the depth and explanation they require. Tomb Raider is more grounded in reality, even more so than the game it is based on, but that means it has less it needs to explain to the audience. We've seen this before, so we don't need tedious info dumps to explain the world that we're in. This allows the film to focus on the characters and the action.
The Competition Isn't Great
Ok, so the fact is that part of the reason that Tomb Raider is the best video game movie yet created is that the competition isn't that tough. There have been some decent game movies in the past, but even the decent ones have serious problems, and while Tomb Raider isn't perfect, it overcomes most of the problems we've seen before. The story may be none too original, but it's a story that works. It doesn't require the audience to be familiar with the game. It's a solid action movie with some real highlights. We may still be waiting for a truly great video game movie, but at least now we have a good one.