The discussion surrounding “Tomb Raider” and the video game movie curse is so old by now that there doesn’t feel like there’s much more to say.
Even back when the original Angelina Jolie movie “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” hit theaters, commenters were wondering whether it was actually possible to make a good movie based on a video game. Twenty years later, nothing has changed.
The new “Tomb Raider” movie is, by all accounts, not good. Not only is it not a good movie, but it’s not even a good video game movie, and that’s saying something.
This is, by this point, utterly baffling — leaving aside all the video game movie baggage, the idea of a beautiful and resourceful archaeologist who shoots guns and steals ancient treasure should definitely not be this hard to get right.
After all, that movie description is basically “Indiana Jones.” We know that can work, so long as Shia LaBeouf is kept as far away from the project as possible.
So why does “Tomb Raider” keep failing in the movie theater? Why can’t directors ever seem to get this formula right, when the character is so consistently praised in the video game world?
Tying down the specifics of why a movie doesn’t work can often be difficult, and no doubt many talented movie critics will spend the next few months picking apart the new “Tomb Raider” (or else it’ll be entirely ignored, because it’s not very noteworthy).
Perhaps the biggest problem with these kinds of movies, though, is that it’s assumed that by translating a character and story directly from one medium to another, no original thought needs to be put into the process.
For a while in their history, movie adaptations would veer wildly off-script, often to disastrous effect as movie producers came up with ridiculous extra elements to a story to try and reinterpret a classic.
Then, films like “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” proved that it’s far easier to make a successful movie if it follows the plot of its source material as closely as possible.
Hollywood was slow to learn this lesson, but after successive years of accurate adaptations proving to be box office gold, movie studios have finally learned that fidelity is important in making a movie based on a book.
This alone isn’t enough, though, as movies like the “Tomb Raider” and, indeed, last year’s “Ghost in the Shell” prove. It’s not enough just to get story beats correct or to perfectly adapt visuals from another medium.
What matters most (and what producers often overlook) is the feeling of these stories. Movies like “Iron Man” come littered with dramatic changes to the visuals, and even the characters, or the comic book mythos that the film is based on.
Prior to the release of “Iron Man,” comic book Tony Stark was always a very serious character who rarely cracked wise (although he’s since had a personality tweak to line up better with the films).
Changing the character for the movie worked, though, because the film was able to take the Marvel Comics source material and infuse it with a strong, engaging, quirky sense of fun. Comics have always been a bit silly, and it’s this colorful vibrancy that helped translate “Iron Man” from the printed page to the big screen.
The new “Tomb Raider” certainly looks the part, but it’s hard to capture the essence of the video game on the big screen in two hours.
The bad video game movie argument may be old, but the challenge exists for good reason: It’s hard to make a movie that’s more fun than actually playing a game.
Perhaps one day someone will crack this formula, but for the moment, “Tomb Raider” joins “Assassin’s Creed,” “Warcraft,” “Street Fighter,” “Super Mario Bros.,” and dozens of other video game movies on the scrap heap of bad ideas.
But, hey, there’s always that “Sonic the Hedgehog” movie that’s in the works! That’ll be a hit, right?