A new Tomb Raider movie is finally hitting theaters, and audiences are excited, if perhaps a bit confused: what exactly is the new Lara Croft film? A remake? A reboot? A prequel? All three? While hardcore video game fans know the history of Lara Croft and her many reboots, casual moviegoers might have some misconceptions about Alicia Vikander’s take on the most famous fictional explorer this side of Indiana Jones.
To many non-game players, their only exposure to Croft and her adventures came in the form of the 2001 film, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie. The movie was a breakthrough role for its lead actor, cementing her status as a blockbuster movie star, and it became the highest-grossing game-to-film adaptation up to that point. In fact, with $131 million, Tomb Raider 2001 is still the highest-grossing video game movie of all time in North America.
The cultural significance of Angelina Jolie’s take on Lara Croft cannot be overstated, even though the clumsily-titled sequel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, was a critical and financial disappointment (hence the fifteen-year gap before the new film). But the new version’s relationship to it is more complicated. Put simply, it’s an adaptation of a prequel-reboot – although to explain that we need to go deeper.
Too Many Lara Crofts
The Tomb Raider franchise has been rebooted twice, meaning there are three timelines, and thus three distinct versions of Lara Croft. The original series began with the first game in 1996 and continued for five sequels, culminating in 2003’s Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, which was a critical and commercial failure, leading to the first reboot. It was during this time the Jolie movies released.
In 2006, Tomb Raider: Legend brought on a new iteration of the classic character, with a more stylized art style than the original games, as well as a shift to Lara’s personality; she became a bit less aloof and more of a personable character, a far cry from the stone-cold badass of the classic series. Legend also took some cues from the Angelina Jolie movies, such as the design of Croft Manor, Lara’s affable rapport with her trusted friends, and the greater prominence of her father. Unfortunately, despite the early success of Legend and its prequel, Tomb Raider: Anniversary (a remake of the 1996 game, but set in the new continuity), the 2008 sequel, Tomb Raider: Underworld, failed to meet sales expectations and the series was rebooted yet again.
The most recent video game reboot game in 2013, with the simply-titled Tomb Raider, which spawned a 2015 sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider. A follow-up, tentatively titled Shadow of the Tomb Raider, is heavily rumored to be in development. It is this series which serves as the inspiration for the new movie.
Prequel? Remake? Reboot?
When the 2013 game was first announced, some fans were confused as to whether it was going to be a prequel to either of the previous series or a full-on reboot, sentiments which were echoed when the film adaptation was revealed. For both the game and the movie, Tomb Raider is a hard reboot. They tell the origin story of Lara Croft, but it is not a prequel to any earlier TR story.
Read More: Our Tomb Raider Review
So, Tomb Raider 2018 is an adaptation of Tomb Raider 2013, and simultaneously a reboot of the Angelina Jolie movies. Just as the game was a fresh start with no narrative ties to earlier titles, so too does the movie completely jettison everything from the Jolie series. Indeed, those hoping that Tomb Raider would somehow fit in as a secret prequel to the Jolie series, this is not the case, since Lara’s relationship with her father is completely different from how it was portrayed in the 2001 movie, officially rendering the two timelines incompatible with each other.
At the end of the day, Tomb Raider is another Hollywood reboot, but it happens to have an interesting pedigree, being an adaptation of a game which was itself a reboot to a series which had already spawned a Hollywood film series. Confusing as it may be, the key takeaway is that Tomb Raider 2018 is a fresh start for the film series and a cinematic rebirth for Lara Croft, one of the most iconic figures in modern pop culture.
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