To remake or not to remake? That is the question. Hollywood has been doing them almost since the beginning and doing some of them quite well. “Ben-Hur” (1959) was a remake, for pity’s sake. We can all probably think of a few good films and even more bad ones where it would be worth seeing what other creators could do with them. But there has to be some standard and when a movie didn’t really need to exist in the first place, there’s no reason we should ever see another version of it.
Back in 2001, Angelina Jolie was one of those “IT” girls in show business. She had bounced around the industry for a few years with smaller roles on TV and in flicks that went from the theater to the video store in short order, then had a breakout performance in a TV movie called “Gia” (1998) and stole the show from Winona Ryder in “Girl, Interrupted” (1999). The movers and shakers of Tinsel Town saw this exotic beauty and thought there might be some money to be made out of her, so they looked around for a star vehicle and settled on a big screen version of a popular video game series.
Sexier than everything in the remake put together.
THIS became James Bond?
17 years later, they’ve remade it. Not because they’ve got a burgeoning female star they’re hoping to ignite. Not because the original had any lasting impact or significant fan base. And not because the genre of video game movies has had any real success. They’re doing it because they’ve lost the ability to come up with anything better to do. It’s “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001) vs. “Tomb Raider” (2018) in this edition of KIMT’s Weekend Remake Throwdown, a contest that proves there’s a big difference between being better and being good.
An extended exercise in seeing how naughty and violent Angelia Jolie could be in a PG-13 movie, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” is a cartoonish mix of real life action scenes that largely hold up and CGI special effects that have not aged well surrounding the barest pretense of a plot. Lara (Angelina Jolie) is the orphan daughter of an aristocratic English adventurer. She’s sexy, rebellious, extremely educated, ridiculously wealthy, and capable of kicking the ass of everything from hulking robots to commando squads to living statues.
A mysterious clock left to her by her father leads Lara into a race with an ancient evil organization called the Illuminati to find two artifacts that can unlock the power to control time itself. With minimal assistance from her butler Hillary (Chris Barrie…Yay, Rimmer!) and her personal tech geek Bryce (Noah Taylor) and minimal resistance from an archeological rival (Daniel Craig) and an almost entirely generic bad guy (Iain Glen), Lara has to travel the globe and shoot a bunch of stuff while continuing to brood over the death of her father (Jon Voight).
“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” is the sort of film where about a million bullets are fired but no human being ever gets shot and where the heroine and the villain put their guns down at the end to decide things in an old fashioned fist fight. In other words, nobody involved thought they were making a masterpiece. It’s 90% just a dumb action movie but that other 10% is kind of interesting. Jolie is physically mesmerizing, if you can overlook the dent in her bottom lip and that her breasts appear to be similarly charged magnets trying to get as far away from each other as possible, and plays the heroic bad girl shtick quite well. And the movie does an excellent job coming up with male supporting characters that are strong enough on their own to make Lara Croft look even better. On the rare occasions when motion pictures try to offer up a strong female character, they usually demonstrate her strength by having her completely overshadow the male characters in the story. Weak men, however, don’t make anyone look good. And the whole production has a genuine sense of fun and excitement running through it. It seems like the people in the movie are having a great time, which is wonderful for the viewer and much harder to pull off than it seems.
“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” produced a sequel in 2003 but Jolie decided she wanted other things out of life than being the biggest movie star she could possibly be and the film franchise ended there. But since no one in Hollywood can leave well enough alone, we’ve finally got another one.
“Tomb Raider” (2018) is trying the same trick the James Bond franchise pulled with “Casino Royale” (2006), jumpstarting things with a movie that pretends to be a prequel. Whereas Jolie was playing Lara Croft in her full glory as an international woman of mystery, this Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is a bicycle delivery girl in London. She’s still the daughter of an English lord but, for reasons the film never even bothers to explore, has decided to abandon her family home and fortune after her father’s disappearance. This Lara isn’t super-sexy, super-educated, or super-anything. The movie starts with her getting beating up by another girl in an MMA match at the gym where Lara can’t afford to pay her dues. This Lara also broods much more intently over her absent dad without any of the distractions of a life of adventure.
Then in a plot which appears to have been largely borrowed from one of the Tomb Raider video games, Lara is delivered a clue to her father’s fate and sets off to what we used to call the Far East to find a hidden island and the crypt of a long lost Japanese empress. She encounters a guy much more interesting than herself who fails to become her sidekick and a bad guy the movie tries way too hard to get audience to sympathize with. I don’t want to give too much more away because “Tomb Raider” is in most respects a well-made film. It’s certainly better written than the 2001 version and the cinematic action is substantially more advanced and visually impressive.
But “Tomb Raider” isn’t any fun. Alicia Vikander has been a very talented actress in a bunch of movies very few people have seen but she doesn’t have 1/10th the on screen charisma of Jolie. And anyone who saw her in the fairly terrible “The Man from U.N.C.L.E” knew she didn’t have that kind of appeal. She’s then saddled with a character who literally spends more than the first half of the film running away from danger, being saved twice by a man with a gun, and cowering from a different man with a gun. This Lara Croft isn’t funny. She isn’t sassy. She isn’t exceptional in any way until the “Tomb Raider” flips an inexplicably switch and Lara suddenly becomes a daring badass.
And speaking of inexplicable, how can the “girl power” in this sort of motion picture be so lackluster in 2018? There are three major male characters in this film that not only have a lot more personality than Lara, they all have more interesting backstories. For the majority of this film, Lara Croft might as well the girlfriend of the actual hero. Even when she starts doing things in the story, most of them are merely her following her father’s example. Vikander is a slim 5’5’’ and it’s almost as if the movie is afraid to look ridiculous by letting her be too impressive, but this is a “Tomb Raider” remake. It’s supposed to be ridiculous. The whole production is far too serious and dramatic for a subject matter created to be light and melodramatic. They're doing an even more exaggerated chick version of Indiana Jones and it looks, sounds, and feels like they thought they were doing Shakespeare where Ophelia from Hamlet got lost in the Temple of Doom.
I don’t want to be too hard on “Tomb Raider” because it is, in most of the technical ways, a decent bit of work. However, two questions consistently ran through my brain as I watched it. Why did they make this? What did they think they were making. It’s not a star vehicle for Vikander. She’s not an “IT” girl and the film does little to maximize whatever appeal she has. It’s not because anyone was asking for another Tomb Raider movie. It’s not because the video game franchise is still a big deal. And for whatever reason they decided to make it, why in the world did they think it would be better as a semi-serious drama than light-hearted escapism?
“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” takes this Throwdown despite being the inferior motion picture in most respects because the people who made it knew what they were doing and why they were doing it. “Tomb Raider” is the product of a Hollywood machine still going through the motions when no one any longer remembers what the end result is meant to be or how the assembly line got started in the first place.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Written by Patrick Massett and John Zinman.
Directed by Simon West.
Starring Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight, Iain Glen, Noah Taylor, Chris Barrie, Daniel Craig, Richard Johnson, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Leslie Phllips, Robert Phillips, and Rachle Appleton.
Tomb Raider (2018)
Written by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons.
Directed by Roar Uthaug.
Starring Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Alexandre Willaume, Hannah John-Kamen, Tamer Burjaq, Nick Frost, and Duncan Airlie James.