Tony Black on the new Tomb Raider movie reboot…
It’s been a seriously long time coming but, at last, we have a new Lara Croft. Despite Daisy Ridley aggressively campaigning in recent weeks for the part, recent Oscar winner and hot property Alicia Vikander will now be headlining the long-gestated Tomb Raider reboot. It’s potentially superb casting, taking a celebrated actress who very much looks the part, capable of a cut glass English accent, who could revitalise what already should have been one of the biggest and best action adventure franchises out there, were it not for two underwhelming movies that have barely lingered in the memory. Angelina Jolie actually deserved better as Lady Croft, an iconic actress in a legendary role who was saddled with average directors, scripts and plotlines in original Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and later The Cradle of Life. Vikander, we can hope, will be better served by relatively unknown Norwegian director Roar Uthaug. Much will depend on how he steers her tenure raiding tombs. Until then, the story of how we got to Vikander in the role is worth considering, as indeed is where her exploits in a future Tomb Raider movie may lead her.
As far back as 2009, we had reports that Warner Bros. and producer Dan Lin were looking to reboot the franchise, and the rumour mill cited Megan Fox as a possible Lara (inevitably given she was all the rage at the time, unlike now). It had already been six years since Jan de Bont’s flabby The Cradle of Life, enough time for Lara to be reimagined for a new audience. It didn’t take long for confirmation that Jolie was leaving the role behind, after the film rights reverted back to video game producers Eidos, it was announced that Graham King of GK Films was spearheading a new film that would focus around a younger, less experienced and honed Lara. This tracked with new developers Square Enix rebooting the saga on the PS3, delivering in 2013 the critically applauded (if not hugely financially successful) Tomb Raider – a back to basics title for a back to basics game, focusing on a young Lara stranded on an island who must survive with only her wits. A sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, followed in late 2015 alongside similar lines and while Lady Croft was getting a gritty, Bond or Batman-esque reimagining in the video game world, that long mooted movie was remaining an elusive beast. King claimed to have a completed script by Iron Man writers Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby, taking inspiration from Rise of the Planet of the Apes tonally in how to reimagine Lara’s story (one assumes tonally anyway and not Lara teaming up with a super-intelligent ape – though there’s probably a comic in that at least!). This was back at the end of 2011 but, again, nothing came of it.
Fast forward again to 2013, and King partnering with MGM to fast track the picture into production, but that earlier draft seemed to fade into obscurity with the producers–as Hollywood are wont to do–starting from scratch. Later that year, vaunted Joss Whedon-ite and Buffy the Vampire Slayer scribe (and for a time, show runner) Marti Noxon had reputedly been hired for another draft, bringing an appealing level of female writing skill to the project, but again–familiar story–no more was heard from it. Enter Warner Bros again to the story, bringing with them a new writer in Evan Daugherty, the man behind such recent ‘gems’ as Divergent, Snow White and the Huntsman and the Michael Bay spearheaded Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remake. Yeah. Some pedigree. This was roughly a year ago and the central story of the film looked to remain the same – the formative adventure of Lara Croft, becoming the woman she is, or the woman we knew from the Jolie films (not that this would be a prequel in any way). Later in the year, Uthaug became attached along with another writer in Geneva Robertson-Dvoret who it appears has worked on Daugherty’s draft. Pre-production began and in recent months, Daisy Ridley was linked heavily to the role after her breakout success in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but perhaps Uthaug’s Scandinavian origins serve to explain one of the reasons Vikander has been hired. Though primarily it will have been because she’s had a stellar couple of years and has pretty much arrived on the Hollywood A-list. Her committing to the project is a coup.
Finally then, it looks like the new iteration of Tomb Raider will be kicking into gear, now star and director are both attached, with a working script everyone seems happy with. Attention now will turn to the story, and whether or not it will do Lara Croft and the franchise justice in a way many considered the original movies did not. So what could they do with the new Tomb Raider?
If they’re looking to reboot Lara from scratch, tell the origin story of a woman who lost her parents in a plane crash and subsequently learned the art of tomb raiding in trying to survive, they could do worse than adapt the 2013 reboot video game. It stripped back the concept and the franchise to a bare bones story of survival and gripped players while doing so, and such a story would fit the modern, gritty aesthetic the producers have seemed to be heading towards for the years it’s languished in Development Hell. You could of course go back even further to the early days of Eidos, when Tomb Raider was first released in 1996, and pick up on Lara in a very Indiana Jones-style of storytelling going after pieces of an artefact called the Scion, which ultimately lead to Atlantis; that story also has a delicious potential villainess role in crazed CEO Jacqueline Natla that would be perfect for an ice-cold actress – maybe also of Scandinavian origin? Subsequent games followed this Indy-style template with Lara hunting artefacts like the Dagger of Xian, a mystical Chinese weapon; meteorite fragments with powerful applications (in the slightly dodgy Tomb Raider III); while other games have seen her hunting various legendary occult artefacts – the Philosopher’s Stone, the Spear of Destiny, Excalibur, Thor’s Hammer, all while travelling the globe and exploring exotic, often ancient locations. Those elements are part of Tomb Raider‘s DNA, and were captured by the first two movies, but what those pictures didn’t have was a sense of what made the game addictive itself. Not just Lara or what she hunted, but the raiding; teetering on the edge of parapets, scaling vast chambers, leaping almost into the unknown. A successful Tomb Raider film needs those elements as much as it needs to give Lara a deeper sense of origin, of character, rather than make her a gadget-filled, cock-teasing superheroine spewing cheesy dialogue all over the place.
As it stands, the Tomb Raider reboot may now be with us next year. Despite an unknown quantity of a director, and a script which could be prone to noisy theatrics, Alicia Vikander is a good omen we may finally get the film Lady Croft has deserved for two decades.
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.