The trailer for the new Tomb Raider is here, and it’s attracted more than a few haters.
In fairness, a lot of people were saying that the movie looked awful before we got to see any footage of it, so it’s hard to know whether or not we should trust the opinion of anyone who’s already written this film off based on its legacy.
The criticism comes mostly from the movie’s uninspired visuals. It’s murky, static, and lacking in originality. At one point there’s a scene where Lara Croft slams into a log and falls down a ravine into a raging river, and it just looks silly. At another point, she has to leap off a crashed plane wing before it collapses down a suspiciously familiar ravine, and it just looks flat and disinteresting.
According to those who hate the look of this movie, Tomb Raider looks cheap, dumb, and cheap.
It’s easy to see where these criticisms come from, but it’s also missing the point.
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with video games will recognize that this new attempt at a Tomb Raider movie takes a lot of inspiration from the recent video games of the same name.
Gone is the campy, over-the-top ridiculousness of earlier games. Lara is no longer in desperate need of a back brace to help endure her over-endowed bosoms, and she no longer fights dinosaurs, clones, zombies, or whatever other nonsense the writers can come up with.
Modern Tomb Raider games are about Lara Croft surviving horrifying trauma, enduring the elements, and getting revenge on the bloodthirsty murderers that always seem to turn up to splatter her friends into puddles of goo whenever she’s on vacation.
Here’s where the first problem comes into the movie formula: while this kind of visceral, bloody action really works for video games, where developers are often pushing for an M rating in order to sell the most games, in movies, the franchise is better aimed at younger teenagers.
As much as the Tomb Raider movie may look like its video game namesake, the aim here is to actually make the next Hunger Games, with a plucky female lead battling the odds with a bow and arrow in order to inspire young girls everywhere.
That’s why the action here looks so lackluster – for all the movie is ostensibly being sold based on its fight scenes and big visual setpieces, it’s really meant to be all about the character.
Notice how much time is spent in the trailer on setting up Lara’s backstory. This was a big element in the first Tomb Raider movie as well, and it never really clicked. So why return to the idea of a shadowy past for the Croft family in another film? Because this helps to build a fully-fleshed, three-dimensional character to lead these movies.
What sets the Tomb Raider franchise apart from any other similar modern game series about fighting off nature and killing bad guys? How is it different to Just Cause, Far Cry, or, indeed Uncharted? The secret is Lara, who, in spite of starting life as nothing more than a pair of triangular breasts with eyes, has managed to grow into an icon of female empowerment.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t like the look of the (probably half-finished) special effects, or think Tomb Raider looks cheap. This movie isn’t really about the tombs. It’s about bringing Lara Croft to the big screen, and giving her a canvas on which to express herself.
It’s hard to communicate strong character depth in a movie trailer, which is why things look a bit ropey. But, then, Batman v Superman has great trailers and absolutely no heart whatsoever. The things that make a good movie don’t necessarily always translate into making a good trailer as well.
Maybe it’s too soon to assume that Tomb Raider will be the Next Big Thing for the teenage girl audience now that Katniss Everdeen has hung up her bow. Certainly, as a general rule, if there isn’t enough good material in a movie to fill a two minute trailer, it suggests that the film might not be worth watching.
That said, if you have issues with this footage and you’re not a teenage girl, you’re probably not the target audience. The message on display here is “Lara Croft is Your Greatest Power Fantasy”, and that will probably sell to its target audience regardless of how dumb the movie’s action scenes look.
Tomb Raider probably won’t be the greatest movie ever made. For its intended audience, though, it might just be the most important movie since the last time we saw a scrappy heroine shooting arrows in the wilderness.