So there’s a quiet, benign buzz beginning to hum at the edge of the internet’s metaphorical auditory perception regarding a new Tomb Raider movie in the works. It will reboot the (failed) franchise and possibly contain an origin story. It will not star Angelina Jolie. It has no plot, no writer, no director, no star attached. It will not feature Megan Fox.
Do I support this idea? Yes. Tomb Raider was the second video game I ever played on my very own console, the Sega Saturn my daddy bought me for Christmas when I was in the 6th grade. We would play it together every evening when he came home from work- figure out the puzzles, flail in panic when set upon by wolves, watch the pixilated cut scenes of labyrinthine underground cisterns and say, “That’s so cool!” As history buffs and archeology fans, the original Tomb Raider appealed to both my father and myself on many levels. We followed Lara into her next to games on the Playstation I got in high school to replace my sadly obsolete but much beloved Saturn, and then, just a few years ago, when they rebooted the game franchise with Legend, I would bring that game with me and my laptop when I would visit him from college and in the summer. Tomb Raider: Lara Croft has long been, for me, not just a shining beacon of a Cool Girl Character (because I freely admit that one of the first things I want as an option in a game is to be able to play as a girl) but a sort of sentimental property- something that means a lot to me not just as a gamer.
Then the movie came out. The fact that the casting for Lara was perfect beyond all reason got me all excited. Angelina Jolie was good people. My hopes for that first movie were disastrously high. Because, of course, then I went and saw the damn thing, and what did I get for my trouble? Dog sledding without a sled. Even Daniel Craig naked couldn’t save that movie. What made it so particularly painful to watch was that it seemed they had taken Lara and somehow transplanted her to a world where everything was stupid and nothing made sense. She, separate from the film as a whole, was perfect- a bit overly sentimental about her father, perhaps, as that hadn’t been an aspect of the character we’d been shown in the games at that point- but Jolie’s Croft was a distillation of what made the character amazing. Generally calm and cool, but easily incited to Raging Badass. She took joy in the fighting as well as the historical significance of the locales she found herself in. But at every turn, she was thwarted: By the script, by the supporting cast, by the plot, by the McGuffin. At the time, disgusted, I thought they would have done better to have just translated the first game into a movie but then, at the time, I was sixteen. I no longer think that, and I no longer think that translating the new games, any of them, to a feature will work either. The reason for this being, of course, that the new games seem to have been modeled in parts after the stupid movie.
In what is now Grand ATF Tradition, I give you: How Not To Eff Up Tomb Raider.
1. Lara. Angelina Jolie was great. If she were to reprise the role, she would need to beef up for it again. None of this ridiculous waif crap. She’s older, now, but not too old- at her youngest, Lara should be mid-thirties. That said, find an actress who can play the part, not look like it. Through the miracle of Hollywood anyone can get the body of an Olympian. Anyone’s hair can be dyed brown. Lara is intelligent and dangerous, suffers a severe wanderlust and a thirst not for fame but great knowledge. She doesn’t compromise, ever, and she doesn’t play well with others. That said:
2. Nix the supporting cast. She doesn’t need a tech guy, she doesn’t need a young, snarky butler, she doesn‘t need an art historian or a research assistant. She doesn’t need someone else’s voice in her ear. Rivals are requisite, allies are fine, a ‘love interest‘ COULD be acceptable if done correctly, which as of yet it hasn‘t been. You can’t populate a world with one person. Even Tom Hanks had Wilson. But she doesn’t need an awkward entourage around to be fodder or plot devices, not if the story is written well. Get rid of ‘em.
3. Find a stand alone adventure that works cinematically. I would suggest not going to the current Legend/Underworld storyline, as it barely even works for the games. Use Anniversary for a template, if anything. A storyline that begins (ostensibly) when the movie begins and ends when the movie ends. It worked for Transformers, it can work for you. Let her history, losing both parents, exist as motivators for her in the ways that they have shaped her ambitions and her psychology- do not make the films about a mystical journey to retrieve one/both/either parent/s. Let the object of her chase’s mysticism come as a surprise. Don’t have a single fucking scene with techno music or dog sledding, so help me god.
4. Emulate what made the game great. A sense of mystery, suspense, a sense of isolation, and the scope of where Lara fits into whatever epic battle she’s found herself embroiled in. She’s almost always the smallest component, going up against much greater powers or bigger groups than herself. But she’s smart enough, and made of hard enough stuff to do it anyway.
5. Make a genre movie, not an action movie. The first two Tomb Raider movies feel weird and don’t make any damn sense. The ’magic’ sits funny. It never plays, you never buy it. It’s like the difference between the first and second Mummy movies: Something about The Mummy is intrinsically fun and the world, however ridiculous, believable. It feels like a whole universe. The Mummy Returns feels like a train wreck, like Blazing Saddles when the western spills out across the soundstages and starts fights. It has no sense of cohesion, and no charm. Don’t make an action movie with statues that come to life. Create a universe, create the rules of your universe, create an environment that feels like something, that isn’t sterile and generic, and then put your character into it.
6. Nix the fan service. There aren’t enough people out there to appreciate Machine Gun Skateboarding kid if he shows up (although I’d flip my shit. Seriously. Oh my God, it would be amazing). Or Larson. No one would get it (except me, oh my god. You could do it for me). You have interesting source material. Use it. But write the movie from scratch.