How (Not) to Think About Tomb Raider: Critics and Video Game Movies

Tomb_Raider_(2018_film)

All video game movies are bad.

The Tomb Raider reboot is a video game movie.

Therefore, the Tomb Raider reboot is bad.

Logical, right?

Wrong. You know it; I know it. Arguments based on a flawed premise don’t stand up well to scrutiny. 

Yet, this thinking ruled the day when it came to reviewers covering the recent Tomb Raider reboot, starring Alicia Vikander.

Different than previous installments, this Lara relied on wits and will rather than the screen presence of Jolie’s early 2000s iteration. Jolie’s two films were arguably the last 90s action franchise, filled with cheesy action set-pieces and even cheesier one-liners. They were decidedly self-absorbed and self-aware action films.

Norwegian Director Roar Uthaug to take a different route. He traded the 90s garish Jolie flare and undeniable starpower for the scruffy, determined, performance of Vikander.

The film was fairly straightforward: Lara, the reluctant heiress to her presumed dead father’s business, sets off on adventure to find him when she finds his secret lair, where a videotape he recorded warns her of the dreaded “Trinity” organization, Hell-bent on ruling the world.

It makes a great companion piece to the Indiana Jones franchise, because it seems to ask the question: what would the daughter of Indiana look like? The answer is the Lara Croft found in this film. Vikander’s spunkiness, resourcefulness, and charm shine through her performance as an often outnumbered and outmatched adventurer, relies on her tenacity, and a few cheap shots to take the bad guys down, similar to Indiana Jones.

In the most poignant scene, the young adventurer fights for her life against a man nearly twice her size and strength. Using every bit of herself, she is able to outmaneuver him, and drown him in a small pool of mud. She just killed a man. She is broken, bloodied, bruised, worn, and crying beside the lifeless body. Gone are the days of doing a triple backflip from a killer mech while shooting with flawless accuracy; this Lara is human.

The film is not without its missteps. Like many in the action adventure genre, it slows in the murky middle. Thankfully it soon picks back up with a riveting final act. Though flawed, this made a stellar first English language film for Uthaug. His Lara is decidedly female – Vikander has a classical beauty to her; and definitively an action star – she punches, kicks, jumps, and shoots her way through much of the film.

Audiences would not know that from reviews. The review aggregator, Rotten Tomatoes, lists it at 49 percent. Officially, a rotten film. Move on to the next summer film. Yet another bad video game movie. Upon further investigation, something in the reviews don’t add up.

Since the film is a video game adaptation, immediately an abundance of critics wrote it off before the lights in the theater dim and the ice in their drinks begin to melt. Reviews, replete with canned responses, reminded the readers, “you can write this one off, it’s a video game movie.”

Consider this before penning a rebut: The much-maligned Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has nearly 30 percentage points higher the RT score as Tomb Raider. That’s nuking the fridge levels of unbelievability. 

Compare the reviews. Tomb Raider is immediately disregarded as a film, and her action set pieces dismissed as stuff you would find in a video game. What about swinging in a jungle with monkeys, car chases on cliffs, or even, to use a reference from a previous Jones film, falling from a plane and surviving with nothing but a life raft? What makes one set piece forgivable and the other not?

A recent book explains why this phenomenon of groupthink so pervasive, especially in a culture overwhelmed with information. “How to Think,” by English Scholar and Critic Alan Jacobs, delves into this mentality; one that quickly dismisses something before giving it much thought.

In the book, he expounds upon the thoughts of philosopher Daniel Kahneman. In this age of abundant knowledge, humans quickly categorize and compartmentalize everything. When hearing someone you disagree with, the first time you hear it, you’ve already begun your rebuttal. But what happens when you  prepare your rebuttal while the person (or film) is still making their argument? You’re no longer listening. You’re no longer thinking.

Using an example from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and essayist, Marylinne Robinson, in her essay, “Puritans and Prigs,” Jacobs relates how most modern ideas of the Puritans as being joyless prudes are simply fiction. But the idea had already taken root: Puritans are Prigs, even when they’re not.

The new Tomb Raider film fell prey to the same line of thought.

Why is the latest Jones film fresh while Tomb Raider rotten? It’s simple: video game movies are bad, even when they’re not.

About Joseph Hamrick

Hello, my name is Joseph Hamrick. I enjoy reading stories I find, which provoke thoughtfulness and introspection. I am a Christian, so most of my writing and thinking comes from a theological perspective. I am currently engaged to Jesse Berden, and will Lord-willing be able to call her my wife (and subsequently update this profile) on March 23. I love contemplating on the moral, philosophical, and theological aspects of what I read and watch. I keep a weekly column, "Something to Consider," for the Greenville Herald-Banner. Along with that, I write on a regular basis at www.servantsofgrace.org.
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