Good and bad things have been said about both of the Tomb Raider movies. I personally enjoyed both, but I can admit that they aren’t perfect films. This week we’ll be taking a look at what works and what doesn’t with each movie, and deciding which one did the best job at adapting the video games for the big screen.
Note – I will only be discussing the 2001 and 2018 Tomb Raider films, and leaving out Cradle of Life. In another blog I might review that movie as well, but for now it’s easiest to just compare these two.
Best Lara Croft
This is going to be a tie because both Alicia Vikander and Angelina Jolie did amazing in their respective films. They both do a decent job acting and put in an extraordinary amount of effort to get in shape for the role. You can see Jolie’s veins in her forearms popping out (in a sexy way), and Vikander’s physique ripples with lean muscle (also in a sexy way).
Obviously these two ladies are portraying very different types of Lara Croft. Jolie’s Lara is a larger than life video game character who relaxes by bungee jumping off balconies, knocks people out with a motorcycle, and walks around with a swagger and eyebrow arch that lets the rest of us know just how square we are compared to her. Yes, it’s quite over the top, but so was the pre-Square Enix Lara, and that’s one of the things that made her so fun.
On the other hand, Vikander’s version focuses more on physicality over sex appeal. This Lara is more realistic, which makes her more relatable; you almost feel like you could be her (or write a cool blog about becoming her). Her movie is based on the 2013 video game of the same name, and presents us with a Croft that is inexperienced and more human. In this article, I won’t go into whether or not Lara (especially 90s Lara) should be considered as an empowering pioneer in representing women in video games, or if she was an over-sexualized result of a testosterone-driven fantasy. Regardless, the new reboot of Lara in the video games and this movie is an inspiring role model that fits right in with our society’s new focus on the #metoo movement and how women are and should be portrayed in the media.
Winner: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Tomb Raider (2018)
Having an engaging plot is an essential part of an enjoyable movie, so let’s take a look at what each of these films has to offer.
In LC:TR, Lara must find two halves of an artifact called the Triangle of Light before the Illuminati finds them and abuses the power to control time. Along the way, she explores two different tombs, fends off an army of mooks as they attack her mansion, and follows hints left behind by her father in order to find and destroy the artifact. It is very much based on the 1990s Tomb Raider video games, and is full of all the action movie cliches and 90s cheese that you could want.
TR has a similar story as far as having Lara follow her dad’s notes in order to find and possibly destroy an ancient artifact before a corrupt organization gets their hands on it, but that’s about where the similarities end. In this version, Lara is poor and works for a living as a bicycle courier, despite being an heiress to a large fortune. She refuses to sign papers to take over her father’s inheritance, because that would mean admitting to herself that her vanished father is most likely dead. She does eventually sign the papers and discovers that her father was a secret archaeologist who wants her to destroy his notes on the mysterious Japanese island of Yamatai. Lara disobeys and goes to Yamatai herself in order to find out if her father is still alive. This one is based on the 2013 Tomb Raider game and follows the story fairly accurately, so if you’re a fan it’s fun to see how they recreated some of the iconic scenes from the game.
So which one did it better?
Although I thought it was a neat twist to make Lara poor in the beginning of the movie, I thought it was weird that she only stayed that way because she didn’t want to take her dad’s inheritance. I understand that she didn’t want to admit on paper that he was dead and she was now the rightful owner, but that seems more of a psychological concern rather than anything legally binding. I may not be up to speed on British law, but couldn’t Richard Croft just share claims with his daughter if he happened to make it back to England to prove that he wasn’t dead? It just seems a waste to have all that money and property sitting around with Lara refusing to claim it just because she’s in a bit of an emotional slump about her missing father. And since she signs the papers and gets the inheritance anyway at the beginning of the movie, it really doesn’t change the plot one way or another.
In my opinion, it would have made a much better movie to have Lara start out poor and then gain her wealth through her archaeological findings. It’s not something that’s been done in any of the games, including the newer ones, but it’s something that would have made the movie stand out a bit more and make Lara even more relatable to the regular moviegoer.
The rest of the TR storyline is a bit too linear to be that memorable. It takes a while for Lara to start tomb raidering at all, and once she does, we are treated to a short corridor walk down one tomb, and before we know it, the tomb experience is over and so is the movie. In LC:TR, we get to watch Lara go through two different tombs, one in Cambodia and one in Russia, and watch her battle living statues, more mooks, and solve puzzles and mechanisms that seems large and complex. Again, this is all fitting with the spirit of the original games, and not just the 1990s ones. The Tomb Raider reboot also had a lot of these elements as well.
The missed opportunity here is that TR didn’t take advantage of the fact that the reboot game it was based on included beautifully decorated hidden tombs with different puzzles to solve, fighting the way out of ancient Japanese palaces through an army of assassins, exploding caves, and freakishly terrifying oni to battle. While it did present some interesting ideas once in a while, the new TR movie could have been so much more with regards to its story and source material.
Winner: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Best Supporting Characters
First, let me say when it comes to Lord Richard Croft, I do prefer the one from LC:TR. Richard Croft from TR just didn’t seem to have much chemistry with Vikander and therefore he doesn’t seem very fatherly. In LC:TR, Richard is portrayed by Jolie’s actual father, so the relationship between them feels very genuine. Also, LC:TR’s Richard is more believable as an archaeologist who is well respected in those circles. It’s what he, and later his daughter, do as their profession (even if in the game Lara says she only does it “for sport”). TR Richard does archaeology as a hobby, and while he seems good at it, it’s a secret passion that takes a backseat to his other duties as a lord, whatever those are.
But my main problem with TR Richard is that during the film’s climatic fight scene, when Lara and the other prisoners on the island are making their escape, Richard decides this is the absolute perfect time to come out of hiding and take a stroll to go check out the local death queen’s tomb. Not at night under cover of dark, not a few hours after the conflict has died down and the bad guys are either dead, imprisoned, or on the run, but right in the middle of the freakin’ combat! And right in front of the man who tried to kill him and previously thought he was dead. Because of this stupidity, he and Lara end up getting captured, and Lara is coerced into opening the tomb. Since this is exactly what Richard has spent the last seven years trying to prevent, this plan was about as well thought out as deciding to duct tape your kids to a rhinoceros at the zoo. If Richard hadn’t have gone to the tomb, it wouldn’t have been opened, Queenie wouldn’t have been disturbed, and our single tomb count per movie would’ve dropped to zero. On second thought, I guess it works okay as a forced plot device (slow clap).
But for the rest, I much prefer the villain in TR – he’s more realistic and sympathetic; he’s doing what he can to get off the island and back to his family. That doesn’t make him any less of a douche, but at least he’s not as cartoony as the villain from LC:TR. And let’s not forget the wonderful sidekicks from that movie either. Just techie Bryce alone with his robot fetish is enough to knock LC:TR out of the competition for this round. Totally not kidding about that fetish thing – the guy keeps robots in his bed.
Winner: Tomb Raider (2018)
Now for the tiebreaker – which film looked the best and was overall the most memorable. TR had some gorgeous shots of forests and beaches from South Africa, as well as views of the London skyline, which my dumb American brain was amazed to find out does not consist of just smoky chimneys and clock towers.
LC:TR has many great shots as well, including on-site filming of the temples at Angkor Wat, Cambodia, and some studio-recreated scenes featuring London, Venice, and Russia. One of my personal favorites is the mansion of Mr. Powell, who has a taste for Taj Mahal-style architecture and includes many decorated columns and arches.
While TR has some beautiful beach shots, overall I found the imagery from LC:TR to be a lot more memorable, especially with regard to the tombs featured in the film. The tomb in TR is rather lackluster, and while that may be more true to real life tombs, it doesn’t make for an interesting climax and is a bit of a failure for a movie that is called TOMB Raider.
Winner: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
While neither film is an absolutely brilliant piece of cinema, I did enjoy both of them and they make for fun popcorn movies to put in and be entertained for a couple of hours. I appreciate that TR went the route of making Lara more realistic, but I find LC:TR more entertaining because her adventures are interesting, involving supernatural elements in the tombs. The new Tomb Raider game also had those elements, as I mentioned above, yet very few of them were included in the new movie. Overall, LC:TR is a lot more memorable, and in my opinion, true to the video games themselves – right down to the groan-worthy dialogue.