Tomb Raider is not a terrible movie. After game adaptation like Hitman (the bad one, and the other bad one) and braindead bullshit like Pixels, that’s a relief. Remember the 90s, when Hollywood was hellbent on adapting every Japanese game into a movie, and that gave us post-apocalyptic cyberpunk Mario, Jean Claude Van Damme in an invisible boat and this poor bloated bastard (opens in new tab) in Double Dragon? Tomb Raider bears little resemblance to those messy, hilarious, horribly acted movies. And honestly, I wish it did. Then it wouldn’t be so boring.
You’ve seen this movie before, in every Hollywood origin story. Like the 2013 game, Tomb Raider and actress Alicia Vikander try to make Lara Croft a believably real, human character, and both end up making her the action movie cliche of a real person, instead. You know the type: she's "poor" because she won't spend her family's billions, but still hangs out on cool, scenic rooftops in London. She struggles with the violence of killing someone to survive, but is soon making death-defying leaps and wielding a bow like she's been puncturing windpipes and not apples all her life.
Most of this character growth is conveniently explained by flashbacks, strategically inserted to ensure you don't need to worry about things like nuance or subtext as you watch. As an adaptation of the 2013 game, I'd call Tomb Raider a complete success: it's safe, generic action entertainment that takes itself a bit too seriously.
I can think of a lot of things that would've made Tomb Raider a much stupider movie. For example: dinosaurs. Most of the story is set on an island Lara seeks out, the island her father disappeared on, which happens to hold the tomb (!!) of the long-lost Queen Himiko. On that island Lara encounters Trinity, an evil Illuminati organization trying to find Himiko's tomb to use her mystical powers for evil. There aren't any dinosaurs on the island, which makes sense, because dinosaurs died out something like 65 million years ago. But all I'm saying is, what if there had been?
Put dinosaurs in this movie and it would immediately get way dumber. I definitely would've started laughing. Just imagine it! There's some rustling in the bushes, and instead of a guy jumping out at Lara and trying to choke her, it's a damn shoulda-been-extinct-forever-ago raptor! That would've been preposterous. And imagine if, when Lara had discovered the location of Himiko's tomb and opened it for Trinity's goons into it after completing a classic videogame puzzle sequence…(opens in new tab)
Mummies. Imagine how dumb it would be if Lara ended up fighting her way through a bunch of reanimated mummies to get to Himiko's body. That would be much less realistic than the Temple of Doom-style traps Lara and the bad guy, Vogel, find themselves dodging. And mummies would be a complete tonal mishmash with Vogel, played by Walton Goggins, who comes across as ruthless and a little bit crazy, but too lightly sketched to be as intimidating as the movie wants him to be. He wouldn't be very scary once mummies showed up.
Or maybe he could've gone crazy, and been extra scary. Walton Goggins can play crazy. He's great at it! And when they finally got to Himiko's tomb, the dumbest thing I can imagine being there to guard it, pretty much, is a centaur. That shit would be campy as hell. I don't even know how I'd review a movie that ended with Lara Croft jumping on the back of a centaur and killing it with a climbing pick. In the kind of movie where something like that happened, the writer definitely would've made Alicia Vikander say "Tomb? Raided." after killing everything. I'm groaning and it hasn't even happened.
All of those crazy, dumb things happen in the original Tomb Raider game, and they would've been full-on ridiculous in a movie. But they're also the things that made Tomb Raider so memorable. I will never forget stepping into that valley and seeing that T-Rex come out of the darkness. I love the foreboding atmosphere and how enemies like mummies make you really feel like you've discovered a place no human has been in thousands of years. I also love the movie The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, and how it goes full camp but still makes you love its characters with fun writing and chemistry.(opens in new tab)
None of the characters in Tomb Raider have that chemistry, because they don't have enough time on screen together to earn it, and the film takes itself too seriously, which is why there's never even a hint of tension that dinosaurs might show up, or mummies might bust through the walls, or anything might happen to deviate from the predictable path of a totally fine action movie.
If Lara Croft had ridden a centaur, this movie would've been panned. It probably would've bombed. Of course the things that work in videogames don't often translate to movies with real human beings. The videogame movies of the 90s never really learned that, which is why they're so consistently insane. It's also why they're never, ever boring—and when they're predictable, it's because you know the stupidest possible thing is about to happen. Tomb Raider isn't a terrible movie, but I wish it was. It would've been a lot more fun, that way.