Tomb Raider: 4 Things the Reboot Must Do, and 2 Things It Shouldn’t


Lara Croft has been a videogame institution for over twenty years, and in that time she’s seen countless iterations across multiple forms of other media; comic books, novels, web-series, and – yes – films. Memorably brought to life by Angelina Jolie in both 2001 and 2003, Lara Croft’s adventures saw a fair amount of financial success, even if they were dismissed critically. With the big screen reboot out this week, based on the supremely well-received videogame reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise in 2013, we at OnScreen thought it would be a good idea to run through four things that the forthcoming reboot absolutely must do, and two things we’re really hoping it doesn’t.

DO Make Lara a Person
As fun as the original Lara Croft series of films were, they didn’t really show Lara as a person, so much as an icon. Sure, there was lip-service paid to her past, and some focus on the relationship with her father in the first film (something the reboot also seems to focus on rather heavily), but all-in-all Angelina Jolie’s portrayal was about being badass and looking damn fine doing it.

That’s not to say they’re totally without merit. But Lara Croft’s adventures have always resembled those of a superhero by way of Indiana Jones. Let’s face it; she lives in a mansion, has a faithful elderly butler, is richer than God, her parents are dead, she travels the world facing down colourful villains with incredible powers – she’s Batman with a penchant for shiny things. And with the changing landscape of superhero films, audiences now expect more from their leads. It simply isn’t enough for Lara to be the ass-kicking sex symbol of yore.
To give the forthcoming reboot its dues, the casting of Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) certainly seems to indicate that those in charge are keen to place an emphasis on character this time around. The most important thing the newer Tomb Raider videogames did for the franchise was generating empathy and pathos for its lead character. The new film should absolutely follow this example.

DO Show Her Struggle
One of the most fun elements of the previous Tomb Raider flicks was that, whilst the men around her quibbled and bickered and generally looked lost, Jolie’s Croft would storm in, roll her eyes, and do exactly what needed to be done. Occasionally whilst tutting. But the narrative issue with this (admittedly fun) dynamic was that Lara never felt like she was in any danger. Even when all hell was breaking loose, and it seemed like the whole world was about to crash down around her, “Ah-ha” the bad guys left some dogs and a sled, off we go then.
This reboot is supposed to be showing us a Lara who is less experienced, who hasn’t yet become the Tomb Raider of lore. Show her understanding of archaeology, show her being intelligent and capable, absolutely. But put her in danger, and make the audience feel like they have to root for her survival. Don’t be afraid to let Lara fail, stumble, and fall.

DO Keep It Simple
When it comes to big, pulp-style adventure stories, there can be a great urge to load the narrative up on mythology, on grandiose possibilities and historical name-dropping. Something the Indiana Jones trilogy (yes, trilogy, what fourth film?) did so well was keeping the core plot fuss-free; get the magic box away from the Nazis, save the children from the temple, find the Holy Grail. The set-up isn’t nearly as important as the adventure itself. It’s the journey, not the  prologue, that we’re interested in.
We know, as audience members walking into a film called Tomb Raider, that Lara is going to go on a grand adventure where she’ll have to use her wits and superior upper-body strength to save the day. There’s no need to fall into the trap of many, many new franchise-starters these days of wasting half the film setting up the plot the audience came to see. From the looks of the trailer, it seems like Lara discovers a man-cave of her father’s (a nice nod for fans to the secret room of the Blood Ties DLC from the Rise of the Tomb Raider game), a secret video message and some maps, and off she goes. If it’s that simple, then perfect. We don’t need much more than that. Less can quite often be more.

DO Give Lara a Core Group of Allies
If nothing else, the greatest ongoing addition to the Tomb Raider canon from the Jolie films was giving Lara a team. Prior to those instances, any allies she’d ever known had always been fleeting – either betraying her or facing narrative-spurring deaths. And whilst that’s certainly fine for early PlayStation games in which ‘go to place, find the thing’ was all the plot one needed for two hours of gameplay, it did make the character a rather lonely one in later years with even the comic books of the time struggling to give Lara a consistent supporting cast beyond Winston the butler.
With the reboot there’s a plethora of characters to choose from, with university-friend Sam, caterer-turned-explorer Jonas, or mentor Roth being the obvious choices. Whilst we’ve seen neither hide nor hair of any recognisable characters beyond the Croft clan in any trailers so far, Daniel Wu’s Lu Ren seems to be fulfilling the role of partner for some portion of the new film, and it’s possible we simply haven’t seen the rest of Lara’s friends pop up yet.

DON’T Lay on the References Too Thick
With the iconography of the Tomb Raider franchise being burned into the retinas of thousands of square-eyed gamers from across two decades, there is of course going to be a temptation to lay on the references to get a quick grin from franchise fans. And whilst the odd call-back is expected, and will absolutely get the intended reaction, over-doing it would seem lazy and unconfident.
This story can stand on its own. Whilst it would be neat to catch the odd reference to games from across the eras, we don’t need Lara turning down some twin pistols and saying “Maybe later”, discussing her long-held fear of wolves, or musing on how she hopes to visit Peru one day.

DON’T Fall into the Franchise Trap
With a series and character as beloved as Tomb Raider and Lara Croft, it’s obvious that studio Warner Bros. are hoping for a franchise here. The nature of the character’s episodic adventures lend themselves as easily to serialised storytelling as Bond or Batman. But, like so many franchise-starters in Hollywood lately, there’s the possibility of scuppering things at the first hurdle by prioritising sequels.
A final scene where villainous organisation Trinity meet the shadowy antagonist for the sequel is totally fine. Hell, it would be a surprise if something like that didn’t show up. But director Roar Uthaug and writers Evan Daugherty, Geneva Robertson-Dworet, and Alastair Siddons need to have their eye on the prize. After all, it’s rare for a film to get a sequel without being a standalone film on its own first.
What do you think? Are we right? Wrong? Are you excited for the upcoming reboot? Let us know in the comments!

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