Can Amazon make a success of its Lara Croft universe?

The Tomb Raider franchise is now at Amazon, reportedly spanning TV, cinema, and games. But will its take on Lara Croft work?

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In video games and in cinema, Lara Croft has survived all kinds of deadly encounters and near-misses, but the most difficult challenge the heroine has faced in recent years is the global pandemic. In 2019, work was in progress on a sequel to director Roar Uthaug’s film, Tomb Raider, with Alicia Vikander returning to the role as the rugged adventurer. But a series of delays triggered by the outbreak of COVID-19 saw the project gradually fall apart – original director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump dropped out, replaced by Misha Green, and then MGM’s rights to the franchise expired before a foot of film could be shot.

The long-running Tomb Raider franchise now has a new home at Amazon, with the next game due to be published by Amazon Games. Meanwhile, the company reportedly has plans for a new Tomb Raider movie, which will be co-produced with dj2 Entertainment, and a TV series, with Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge said to be writing the scripts. The deal is another huge one for Amazon – its biggest investment in an entertainment IP since The Rings Of Power, the firm’s unfeasibly expensive Tolkien TV series.

Because it’s the 21st century and Marvel still dominates the cultural landscape, the word is that Amazon’s range of Tomb Raider products will all be interconnected, resulting in a shared universe between the video game, TV series and film. It’s a potentially risky move, given that recent history is littered with thwarted attempts at following the Marvel model of interconnected stories; one standout is the Dark Universe series – an intended sandbox of movies featuring Universal Studios’ back catalogue of monsters. Ultimately, those plans were quietly dropped after The Mummy’s dismal reception in 2017, leaving only a faintly embarrassing cast photo for future generations to wonder at.

tomb raider lara croft Crystal DynamicsSquare Enix

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about Lara Croft’s future at Amazon, though. Approached the right way, the ‘shared universe’ model could be used to ensure consistency between various developers, TV writers and production designers, rather than the mind-bogglingly complex web of plotlines the Marvel franchise has gradually grown into. For example, Legendary Pictures’ recent Godzilla and King Kong movies all notionally exist in the same continuum, but quite rightly, they’re still basically about big monsters hitting each other and causing structural damage to tall buildings.

Meanwhile, there’s the oft-discussed ‘video game adaptation curse’. If it ever existed at all, it’s been well and truly been broken by HBO’s universally-applauded translation of The Last of Us. In cinemas, the Sonic the Hedgehog movies (co-produced by dj2 Entertainment) were a financial success, and even critics didn’t judge their frothy antics too harshly for the most part.

Even if you believe in the adaptation curse, it could be argued that Lara Croft has long fared better than most franchises when it comes to movie adaptations; the brace of Angelina Jolie-starring movies released in the 2000s were entertaining enough, and at least attempted to capture the tone of the games as they were at the time. Later, 2018’s Tomb Raider was a solid interpretation of the rebooted franchise’s earthier, less fantastical vibe, with a likeably steely performance from Alicia Vikander.

Regrettably, we can only imagine what a Tomb Raider sequel, filtered through the dark mind of British horror maestro Ben Wheatley, might have looked like. Nor do we know, as yet, who will replace Vikander in the role of the globe-trotting archaeologist. But despite the pitfalls and hazards that lie on all sides, the future could yet be a bright one for Lara Croft; Waller-Bridge means there’s real writing pedigree behind at least one aspect of the enterprise, and, let’s face it, Amazon certainly has the reservoir of cash required to bring Croft’s tomb-raiding adventures to life.

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