[Welcome back to the Evolution of Video Game Movies series. Every week, I will be moving forward through time, starting with the earliest and ending with the most recent of video game movies. I will be detailing the histories of the games and how the films came about, and both my and fan reaction to the adaptations. Practically all of my background information is either common knowledge or from Wikipedia. So without further ado, let's move on to the next film on the list.]
In 1996, a production company named Core Design released a game called Tomb Raider on the not-so-successful Sega Saturn, along with PC. Not too long after those releases, it came out on the PlayStation, bringing the system the success it acquired during the mid-90s. The game stars one of the most famous and popular female video game icons, Lara Croft, a British adventurer akin to Indiana Jones. Interestingly, Lara was just a male placeholder until they came up with another character. But as they developed the game further, they realized a female was the best idea, so Lara stayed.
The games' stories don't particularly matter, as the film doesn't follow any of them. But what each game does include are a set of expectations. At her home, Lara has a butler named Wilson who will follow her around. She goes on adventures around the world, typically having to fight rivals, mythical monsters or other magical things. There's a lot of puzzle solving, and there's a lot of gunplay and skin-revealing and/or skin-tight outfits.
The games gained such an immense popularity that the stress of it was too much for Core Design. After the fourth game, they "killed off" Lara, only to have a fifth game that gave us a flashback adventure... and a sixth game that brought her back to life. Unfortunately, the sixth game bombed, and Core Design handed over the title to Crystal Dynamics in 2006... but that's a story for next time.
In 2001, director Simon West (previously known for Con Air) gave us a film version starring the perfectly cast Angelina Jolie. And most people agreed that Jolie was great casting, but... the film wasn't all that great. However, it did hold the highest-grossing video game film title up until the Prince of Persia movie (more on that one later this year).
I tried playing one of the games years ago, but couldn't get into it (and I didn't like how the controls worked). But I did see this film in theater and remember not disliking it. We all know, however, that memories of yore do not necessarily hold up today. With that said, let's see what I feel about this adaptation.
Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) is a treasure hunter and/or tomb raider who lives in a giant mansion with her butler, Hillary (Chris Barrie) and techie friend Bryce (Noah Taylor). One day she finds a clock left by her father (Jon Voight... in the movie, too), which brings her into an adventure against the Illuminati--including member Manfred Powell (Iain Glen)--to get two triangle pieces and become masters of time. Also helping, though which side is questionable, is an old friend named Alex West (Daniel Craig). So what'd I think?
Boobs. Boobs boobs boobs. That's the biggest part of the character of Lara Croft (no pun intended). They even padded Angelina Jolie up so she could be closer to the video game character in size (and even they thought the 36DD size was too big and unrealistic to jump Jolie up that big). But with the breast size and tight shirts, it's really almost all you can think about while watching anything in this film. There's even a slow motion running sequence in the climax. The other key character trait? Her guns. And she does shoot them. But you know what I find kind of funny? She never once shoots a human with them in the whole film (she shoots at things that will fall on/hurt/whatever other humans, but never does a bullet come out of her gun and go into another person).
Seriously, though, from what I've read, they tried to toss in some key characteristics of Lara for the fans, despite it being a brand new story and... changing a lot. The butler's name is different. They added in a tech friend. They add in the character of Alex West, pretending that there is some personal history between the two which is hardly explained.
The biggest fault of the film is almost the laziness of the story and characters. I mean, the story is there and it isn't half bad. But what it's lacking is any sort of development or depth. The story goes places that don't make any sense sometimes. What's with the little ghost girls? What the hell was going on at the climax with Croft and the bad guy running up the pyramid after the pyramid piece thing? And a handful of other things that just happen with no explanations.
Then you have the characters, which are bland. Lara has the relationship with her father, but besides that, she's just a pair of boobs with guns. Her father's story is somewhat interesting, but it could have been fleshed out a lot more. The casting of Jolie's actual father was inspired, but they share so few scenes that the chemistry isn't given time to build, making me really not care. The character of Alex West (the last name taken from the director) is dull, but it's not anything to do with Daniel Craig, who I actually think gives more personality here than in more of his recent roles. The most backstory we're given is a picture of Croft in the military with Alex West in the background. That's it. You don't know if he's supposed to be good or bad, how he ended up working with the bad guys, any kind of motivation outside "money," or any other real connection with Lara. The character of Bryce is fun, but pointless. He invents a giant fighting practice robot named Simon (after the director... I'm sensing a pattern here), and he helps once or twice in the first half of the film, but is otherwise useless. The butler is awesome, though, but totally underused. And then, of course, we're just given your standard villains; nothing special or interesting about them whatsoever.
On the flip side we get some thought-out and fun action sequences. They might be over-the-top and completely unbelievable, but they're a lot of fun. I'm particularly a fan of the mansion break-in sequence that begins with the bungee cord ballet. There are a lot of fun moments in that whole action sequence. I think had they spent as much time planning out the characters and whatnot as they did the action, this could have been an even more solid flick.
The visuals were also done pretty well, too. The robot Simon looks great. The climax bits look good, and the CGI still holds up there. Everything was made to look great and realistic... which really shocked me come the Cambodian temple sequence. There is so much crappy CGI here, it made me wonder if the same team worked on part of the film that worked on the rest. The silver liquid that makes an equally CGI stone piece float into the air is awful. Hell, Terminator 2 made silver liquid look 100% better almost 20 years prior. Then you have the stone monsters, all of which look incredibly fake and do not hold up well at all. But, still, everything outside of this whole set piece looks really, really good.