Tomb Raider isn’t Star Wars. This would seem an obvious point, but it speaks to a fundamental design flaw of this Tomb Raider reboot. People aren’t writing Tomb Raider novels. No one’s doing big business on Tomb Raider t-shirts. People aren’t making YouTube videos telling the director of Tomb Raider what makes a good Tomb Raider movie. Unlike Star Wars or Star Trek or Marvel, no one really cares about the Tomb Raider canon. The fatal flaw of this movie version is trying to be true to it. What even is the canon? A girl in a halter top jumping? It adheres to a vacuum, attempting to service fans who aren’t there. Better have the halter top girl jumping! The legions of Tomb Raider fans are going to be pissed!
Was making a Tomb Raider movie a bad idea? Of course it was. Has there ever been a good movie based on a video game? None that I can remember. And there have already been two bad Tomb Raiders from the early aughts, starring Angelina Jolie, that no one particularly remembers. But the commercial reality of Hollywood right now is that the large corporations running film studios aren’t interested in making a modest return on a good movie. They’re interested in finding the next massive franchise that can spawn and support regular sequels, generate ancillary profits (toys! games! branding!), and become a regular source of profit for years to come. Investors want guarantees of future profit.
Tomb Raider is a high risk/high reward situation. The odds of it becoming a viable franchise seem extremely long, and as the potential audience, there’s every reason to ignore it. That being said, the corporate justification for the concept is just a jumping off point. Whatever the suits’ reasons for greenlighting it, a filmmaker still had to make it, and there’s always the chance (admittedly slim) of a filmmaker doing great things for dumb reasons. Hell, Lord and Miller made a great movie out of the concept of LEGO.
Roar Uthaug, director of this latest Tomb Raider franchise attempt, is no Lord and Miller. Or at least, the Norwegian director, previously of 2015’s well-received disaster flick The Wave, doesn’t seem to have been inspired in the same way. Or maybe he was and the studio made him chuck it out and focus on the halter top girl jumping.
Whatever the case, the film feels like 90 minutes of someone being far too reverent to the source material that is at best a distant echo of Raiders of the Lost Ark and at worst British lady Donkey Kong. No one cares about this. As Charlie Kaufman’s agent tells him in Adaptation, there’s a solution to seemingly unadaptable source material: just make something up. Uthaug and his screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons (God knows how many more uncredited writers there were) never do, and so we get the uninspired story of a relic hunter who jumps a lot racing to shut a supernatural portal. The central theme seems to be rocks — rocks falling, rocks exploding, things being buried under rocks, people jumping from rock to rock, etc. The CGI rock designers really got a workout.