Full disclosure, I’ve never played a Tomb Raider game in my life. But I remember when the original movies came out; and I’ve been told numerous times that its protagonist, Lara Croft, is practically Lady Indiana Jones. This film has piqued my curiosity ever since I started getting ads for it on Instagram. 😀
Recently, I tried watching the original 2001 Tomb Raider film with Angelina Jolie. I found the first 20 minutes of it to be thoroughly unpleasant. I ended up skipping over several uncomfortable minutes of straight-up objectification of Lara Croft’s unnervingly Barbie-like physique before I gave up entirely. (She can look like whatever she pleases; what I take issue with is the objectification.) This aspect of Lara’s presentation seemed to overshadow the archeological quest premise they were leading into — which sounded incredibly silly. The Illuminati, really? Perhaps kitsch and camp are elements retained from the videogames; I wouldn’t know, but as a new viewer with a background in Indiana Jones movies, I wasn’t buying it.
The 2018 version made me feel a lot better. Tall, gangling Alicia Vikander strikes me as a much more respectable and respectful Lara. By that, I mean she is portrayed in a way that respects women, and she is also a character who grows throughout the film to command respect.
The film introduces Lara as a young woman earning minimum wage as a bicycle courier in London; her father, Lord Richard Croft, been missing for the past seven years, but Lara refuses to presume him dead as the rest of the world has, thus depriving herself of a tremendous inheritance. A series of unfortunate events convinces her to sign the papers acknowledging her father’s death and finally accepting her inheritance: the first item from it being an ancient puzzle box from her father.
This puzzle box unlocks a sequence of clues pointing to the circumstances of Lord Richard’s disappearance: his lifelong quest for the mythical tomb of the Japanese Queen Himiko, legendary for her ability to kill whole armies with the touch of her hand! Lara travels the world to find her father’s last known location, find that tomb, and (of course) raid it.
The character lives on the wild side, but her initial, introductory exploits and conflicts seem more real-worldly. Everything is so grounded. This is clearly a serious adventure film, dare I say a grittier, genderbent Indiana Jones film — a delightful contrast to the pulpy content viewers accepted in 2001.
While Jolie’s Croft was apparently well on in her tomb-raiding years, Vikander’s Croft is young, naive, and vulnerable. This is her origin story on a personal level just as much as it’s an introduction to this iteration of her character, so as a viewer I found her much easier to connect with. In this Lara Croft’s character development arc, there are moments where I expected cinematic drama, but instead, events played out with a lot less pizzazz; with real-world emotional responses like subtle, numb shock when she is made to confront her father’s alleged killer. Unlike the typical problematic “strong female characters” of the modern age, Lara is neither overemotional to the point of weakness, nor an overcompensating half-Vulcan.
There are, however, plenty of other moments that played out like a videogame might, where liberties are thrillingly taken with the laws of physics. Lara’s athleticism is explained away by an active lifestyle back home, working as a bicycle courier during the day and boxing recreationally. But falling into a river from the height she did halfway through the film would probably kill someone!
Like a 3D model in a videogame, Lara only sustains so many superficial injuries as is aesthetically pleasing; and yet, there are moments where it’s clear she’s trudging on despite the obvious pain she’s in. As this movie is based on a computer game, I’m not complaining too much. Unrealistic physics is far better “fan service” to the gamer demographic than what the 2001 movie had to offer.
The movie ends on a very satisfying note, yet it leaves just enough room for continuation without sounding desperate. What sets this Lara’s story apart from that of her male counterpart, Indiana Jones, is how her quest resolves itself in (pseudo)science, while Indy is shown that in his world, supernatural “hocus pocus” is real. That was a plus for me, as I don’t enjoy supernatural, spiritual content in films.
Overall, I enjoyed this relatively wholesome film adaptation of a videogame franchise I’ve never played. Alicia Vikander, to me, is Lara Croft as she should be for the new generation of gamers, geeks, and little girls who could use a more relatable globe-trotting hero to go alongside Indiana Jones.