Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider

By: Kevin Jordan

We might finally have a winner.

Growing up playing video games, my generation has been waiting year after year for a good movie adaptation of a video game.  Hell, we would settle for just average at this point.  The genre kicked off back in 1993 with the ridiculously inept Super Mario Bros. and has continued to be a wasteland of shit since.  That is not to say I didn’t enjoy watching several of them (I might even defend a couple as solid), but I recognize just how bad most of them are.  Of all of the movies in the genre, the peak critic rating (Rotten Tomatoes) is 44% for Final Fantasy.  When I heard Michael Fassbender was cast in Assassin’s Creed, I thought maybe Hollywood was finally going to put an honest effort into a video game movie.  Then, I watched Assassin’s Creed and cried myself to sleep that night.

So, did I learn my lesson upon hearing Alicia Vikander was cast as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot?  Of course not!  In fact, in preparation for the film, I devoted a healthy amount of time to playing the 2013 video game reboot that this film was based on and I found the game to be quite good and fun.  I even broke my rule of never watching previews and those previews did not scare me off either (despite featuring a terrible scene with Lara holding two pistols and cockily saying “I’ll take two”).  It also helps that I would watch Alicia Vikander read a phone book for two hours, but I digress.

(Side note: Don’t judge me.  I would also watch Michael Fassbender read a phone book for two hours.)

If pictures speak a thousand words, they should use her voice.

If you are looking for an explanation for why video game movies almost universally suck, it is because the stories and elements of those video games are almost universally absurd and poorly written (note: they have gotten much better in recent years).  To be fair, many comic books are also absurd or poorly written and Marvel figured out how to make great movies, so that isn’t a good excuse.  This new Tomb Raider flick appears to have taken note of that.

(Very mild SPOILERS, but nothing you can’t predict.)

Unlike the idiotic and convoluted plot of the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider film in 2001, Tomb Raider (2018) takes the video game plot and streamlines it.  Lara’s dad (Dominic West) has been presumed dead after going missing seven years earlier.  Lara discovers what her dad was working on and a clue to his whereabouts and sets off to find him.  She enlists a Chinese boat captain, Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) to take her to a mythical island called Yamatai where she believes her father to have vanished.  After crashing on the shoals surrounding the island, Lara and Lu Ren are captured by Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), who has been on the island for seven years searching for the tomb of an ancient Japanese Queen named Himiko who was believed to possess powerful magic.  The company Mathias works for (Trinity) believes Himiko’s body still possesses power and wants that power.  In short, Lara wants to find her dad and Mathias wants to find Himiko’s tomb and, obviously, their paths cross and action ensues.  The end.

I knew we would discover a good plot.

What I found refreshing was that the movie doesn’t stray down roads filled with mythical or fantastical nonsense.  They talk about the legend surrounding Himiko, but the film doesn’t inundate the viewer with scenes or stunts designed to convince us of the magic.  Rather, it stays grounded in its reality and focused on its main plot while only vaguely hinting that an evil sorceress may be unleashed.  This allows the movie to retain suspense, shrouding Himiko in mystery and only exposing the truth when her tomb is finally discovered.  Despite Lara’s father’s insistence that releasing Himiko from her tomb will unleash evil on the world, resurrected dead aren’t constantly popping out of the shadows and people aren’t killed by magical curses or demons.  It’s a good old-fashioned tomb raid reminiscent of why the Indiana Jones movies were so fun.  If somebody’s face is going to melt, it won’t be until they actually open the box.

Nothing weird has happened yet. I say we open it. Who’s with me?

The small cast of main and supporting characters were also a breath of fresh air.  Yes, there were plenty of disposable characters, but the four I discussed earlier are the cream of the film.  Goggins is in his element as the menacing villain, willing to stop at nothing to accomplish his mission for a surprisingly relatable reason.  West and Wu are solid, though I would have liked to have seen Wu given more to do (if you have seen him in Into the Badlands, you know what I am talking about).  Most importantly, Vikander owns this movie and her role, making us forget the fever dreams caused by Angelina Jolie’s awful portrayal of Croft.  Vikander delivers a character that is strong, but not invincible; intelligent, but prone to making common sense mistakes.  In other words, she is human (though looks like she went on Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine training regimen, not that I am complaining).

The last thing of note is how well they incorporated elements of the game into the film without making them seem completely ridiculous.  In the game, Lara wields a climbing ax and a rope ascender, both of which only make cameos in the film.  There are also a couple of action sequences pulled straight from the game which worked really well in the film and do not go over the top.  They even dressed Vikander exactly like Lara from the game, all the way down to the bandages on her arm and leg and Lara being covered in dirt most of the time.  The only negative criticism I have is they tacked on that shitty “I’ll take two” scene just before the credits roll as an homage to the original game from two decades ago (or worse, the original film).  The game reboot got rid of that for a reason and so should have this film.

Trust me – it works.

The moral of this story is that we finally have a video game movie that doesn’t make us want to quit movies (and video games) or only watch them when nobody else is looking.  It reminds us of fun adventure movies that didn’t have to resort to pure fantasy to keep our attention.  It means that we don’t have to pretend any more that Resident Evil movies are watchable video game flicks because the bar was set so low back in 1993.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back and make sure Vikander always has a phone book nearby.

Warcraft

By: Kevin Jordan

#Ifyousayso.

The number one danger of adapting source material into a movie is that there are people who already know the source material.  And by people, I mean those who will create voodoo dolls of you if so much as change the color of a lightsaber or dare to cut out <insert minor character’s name here>.  These people come in all shapes and sizes and there are various tiers of obsessiveness among them.  By genre, nobody tops the comic book fans, as evidenced by the ongoing Superman debacle and the death threats delivered to Marvel after it was revealed Captain America was a Hydra agent (I wish I was making that up).  They are closely followed by the sci-fi/fantasy book fans who still haven’t gotten over #whathappenedtoTomBombadil.  When it comes to game adaptations, fans tend to stay quiet because most of those movies tend to be so bad it isn’t worth getting mad over messed up details (though if they ever decide to make a Magic the Gathering movie, we should all run for the hills).  While I do still play video games, the closest I’ve ever come to playing Warcraft is watching this movie.  So, if one of you Warcraft-ers tell me about all the things they changed or left out or screwed up in the movie, my response is “whatever, Nerd” and I’ll go back to playing Civilizations (I never said I wasn’t a nerd, just not a nerd for Warcraft).

(If you are wondering which group I’m in, you’d find me most likely in the crowd scrutinizing book adaptations.  However, I am far more objective than my fellow fans.  I can usually see the reasoning behind certain decisions, but I still get annoyed with adaptations that resemble their source material in title and characters only.  I’m looking at you every Young Adult adaptation outside of The Hunger Games.)

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(Also, SPOILERS.)

I don’t know if there was a clamoring for a Warcraft movie by fans, but the project took ten years to actually make it to the screen.  A friend of mine, who happens to be both a comic-book nerd and Warcraft nerd, assured me that the story in the video game is as paper-thin as most video game stories.  Sadly, the movie does not improve upon this.  It starts out well enough (and here’s where this is going to get nerdy) – the orc home world is dying and their leader, Gul’dan, is going to open a portal to another world so they can conquer that new world.  The new world, Azeroth, is home to the standard Lord of the Rings races – humans, elves, dwarves, and wizards.  To say that Warcraft is a derivative of Lord of the Rings is to say that water is wet.  However, unlike Lord of the Rings, the elves and dwarves play no role in this particular story, so get ready for #whathappenedtowarcraftelvesanddwarves.

Had the movie stuck with the simple concept of humans vs. orcs, we would have been content, but the writers tried to cram a bunch of fantasy uber-nerdery (it’s a word now) on top of it.  It starts off easy enough – Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) has acquired some green magic called Fel, which requires life in order to be used, including beings to power the portal.  As soon as they get to Azeroth, things start dying as the orcs are pillaging villages and capturing prisoners.  Azeroth is guarded by Medivh (Ben Foster), a godlike wizard using blue magic who has been fighting the Fel for a long time.  One orc, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), realizes that the Fel is corrupting his race and destroyed their home planet, so he wants to work with the humans to defeat Gul’dan.  At this point, we’re still on board with the story and it still fits the mold of humans vs. orcs with a typical twist thrown in.  But then, #ihaswritingskilz happens.

There’s evil green magic that eats life and good blue magic that doesn’t eat life.  There are wizards that are trying to stop the orcs and a wizard organization doing nothing but guarding a black cube containing Glenn Close and she is uttering nonsensical, double-talk prophecies.  There are green orcs susceptible to blue magic death spells and orcs not susceptible.  There’s a half-breed orc, Garona (Paula Patton), who is chained up to Gul’dan for reasons never explained, nor is it ever explained how a race on a completely different planet that had never heard of humans managed to have a half-human orc.  Meanwhile, Medivh gets weaker every time he uses magic and a young disavowed wizard, Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), gets stronger because he went in the black cube.  Throughout the middle of the movie, 90% of things are happening because #fantasy, while the other 10% is actually setting up the ending, which is when the movie really goes off the rails.

I’m sure I’m boring you by now, so here’s the climax in a nutshell (again – SPOILER alert).  Medivh turns into a demon.  Humans fight orcs.  Khadgar and the human general, Lothar (Travis Fimmel) fight a golam.  Lothar flies on a griffon. Durotan’s wife floats her baby down a river like it is Moses, not an orc (you know, the race attacking the planet), begging the question – won’t it be killed on the spot when it is found?  Gul’dan interrupts his own time-sensitive plot to fight Durotan because “the old ways are important.”  Gul’dan is somehow not torn to pieces by the other orcs.  Garona becomes chief orc by stabbing the human king (Dominic Cooper) in the back of the neck after he tells her to (plus, she was just fighting with the king), which seems odd considering how much these orcs tell us they care about honor.  Lothar flies on a griffon.

I realize I’m making it sound very confusing, but even in the context of the movie, none of the climax makes any sense except for the part where humans are fighting orcs.  Everything the movie was establishing during the first half is pissed right out the window when it becomes a hodgepodge of epic battle scene and fantasy mumbo jumbo.  It’s like Dungeons and Dragons crossed with Eragon and don’t pretend you haven’t seen both of those movies.

Because I’m also a fantasy nerd, I was entertained by the movie, despite the trainwreck at the end.  The blend of CGI with live action is seamless (so much so that I‘m not sure the entire movie isn’t 100% CGI and motion capture) and the movie rarely slows down enough to take more than two breaths.  Yes, I would have preferred some desperately needed exposition, but the action and visuals were good enough to keep me from grumbling.

Finally, I gave my friend a brief explanation of the story components because some of the movie felt like it needed source material knowledge to be understood.  I also wanted to know how much changed from that source material.  He says that it’s pretty close to the stories from the original games published in 1994 and 1996 (same game, but different platforms), but he’ll let me know for sure after he sees it.  After all, how could he not see it, he being a Warcraft nerd?  Now, back to my own nerdery – I’ve got two civs left to kill.

Rating: Ask for four dollars back.  #wereallnerds