How the New Tomb Raider Is Trying to Surpass the Best-Selling Game

Alicia Vikander takes on the mantle of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider.
Alicia Vikander takes on the mantle of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider.
Photo: All Images: Warner Bros.

“If you have the origin story, that’s a way for us to get to know our character, to feel for them, to relate to them on a more human level,” star Alicia Vikander says of the new Tomb Raider movie, based on the hit video game series. This is true, but it also poses a very unique problem for the film: How to tell Lara Croft’s origin when the video games already did it really, really well?

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The fan-favorite franchise was rebooted in 2013 in a new game simply titled Tomb Raider. In it, a younger (and pointedly less titillating) Lara Croft gets stranded on an island full of violent cult members and equally violent supernatural warriors. The appeal of the game was how it turned the titular raider of tombs into a three-dimensional character, showing her early development from a young woman with a penchant for exploring into a resource, resilient action-archaeologist. The game was a massive critical and commercial hit.

It was also an origin story, and its success kept the game firmly on the stars’ and filmmakers’ minds. “I think [the game developers] did brilliant work in bringing Lara Croft to a more contemporary setting,” director Roar Uthaug told io9. “After I got the job, when we were discussing scripts and action scenes and stuff like that, we kept going back to the game to see what they have done and to be inspired.”

So how to make a film that was more than just a live-action version of the game? First of all, by starting further back in Lara’s life. The movie doesn’t begin in a jungle or ancient city (or a tomb), but in the streets of London with a young woman, as Vikander said, “trying to find her footing in the world”

Tomb Raider director Roar Uthaug and Vikander on location.
Tomb Raider director Roar Uthaug and Vikander on location.

“What’s really important is that you feel Lara Croft as a real character,” Uthaug said. “I didn’t want to make her rich, living in a mansion. I wanted her on the streets of East London, working as a bike courier, trying to make ends meet. Kind of disowning her old heritage, and then she gets pulled into this big great adventure that she’s in no way prepared for.”

Since this is still a Tomb Raider movie, Lara Croft also has to kick ass, kill bad guys, solve puzzles, jump across chasms, and everything else players do in the game. She can’t spend the whole movie getting ready to do that. So Uthaug, along with producer Graham King and screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons, tried to split the balance in the movie—make it an origin story, but also a story where you learn how Lara can kick ass, solve puzzles, etc.

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Lara Croft trains MMA in the new Tomb Raider.
Lara Croft trains MMA in the new Tomb Raider.

“It was important to us to set her up with some abilities,” Uthaug said. “That’s why in London you see her training MMA or biking. You see that she’s a physical person and she has some capabilities, although she’s in no way ready for what she’s about to face. And then you watch her kind of grow. Through each ordeal, she gets stronger. I think that it’s also important to see her fail and to see her pick herself and then keep on going.”

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Vikander, too, saw the movie as a challenge—not just in terms of growing the character, but on a more thematic scale. “I’ve done a lot of art house films,” she said. “[But in] a film like this, you’re able to mix these big spectacles with heart and find something that is grounded. To make an artful, interesting story, commercial and big and loud as it should be—that, I think, is the biggest challenge.”

Package delivery from one Lara Croft.
Package delivery from one Lara Croft.
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Uthaug had the same challenge, but as director, he also had to provide that aforementioned spectacle—all while avoiding the all-too-familiar mantra that video game movies suck. While he didn’t think of the cinematic stereotype as a potential curse on the movie, he thinks he knows how to transcend it anyway.

“What was important to me and what I feel is important in any movie, is you have to care about the character,” Uthaug said. “If you don’t care about the character it doesn’t matter how big the spectacle is. So that was our mantra. Get to know Lara, who she is, root for her, see her struggle and, through that struggle, through her ordeals, [and] watch how she becomes the Tomb Raider.”

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Tomb Raider opens March 16.

Entertainment Reporter. NYU Cinema Studies Alum. Formerly Premiere, EW, Us Weekly, and /Film. AP Award-Winning Film Critic & CCA member. Loves Star Wars, posters, Legos, and often all three at once.

DISCUSSION

rudi_freude
rudi_freude

I’ve seen this.

The trailers made me apprehensive that this would be little more than a live-action homage to the 2013 video game reboot, but thankfully Vikander’s Lara turns out to be more than just a pretty face.

I was a little irked by seeing Lara eschew her billion-pound inheritance just to slum in East London, but character development yadda yadda. The antagonist is... uninteresting, although they try to give him some backstory to round out his character.

The thing about casting is that sometimes you can guess plot twists from the caliber of the talent/s alone. And in this case, I pretty much guessed the Big Bad even before Croft got into the temple.

Apples and oranges, and I realize this iteration is based on the 2013 reboot, while the Jolie films dove right in from the original Eidos games, but I miss Jolie’s playfulness and archness. Vikander’s Croft is a tough but wounded girl, and as the actress herself says in the article, she’s trying to find her footing before being thrown into her first adventure.

There is an interesting thing the filmmakers attempt to do as far as the Tomb Raider world is concerned. In the games ( as well as the two earlier TR films), Lara has to fight a supernatural/mystical Big Bad at some point before dealing with her more human nemeses. There’s plenty enough of puzzle solving and traversing here, but during the course of the island sequences I kept wondering whether the film would follow tradition and make the McGuffin a mythical opponent, or whether it would take a more grounded-in-fact ( if not history ) approach. I’ll leave it there as to say more would be to stumble into spoiler territory, but I will say the choice the filmmakers made is an interesting one and will set the tone for the rest of the Vikander franchise.

Vikander is a fine actress and a solid choice for Croft. Hope the film makes money, so that after this origin story we can see her maybe grow into the Tomb Raider I knew and loved.