I was 10 when the first Tomb Raider: Lara Croft film hit theatres. I don’t remember much about the storyline, but what stuck in my memory was how empowering it felt to watch Angelina Jolie not only kick ass, but also solve intellectually complex puzzles at the same time. It also resonated with me because it was the first action movie I watched that had a female protagonist.
Back in 2001, when most of the other blockbusters of that year were classically male-centric—like Jurassic Park III, The Mummy Returns and Planet of the Apes—seeing Jolie’s charisma, wit and athleticism play out on the big screen was exhilarating for me as a little girl. It even inspired me later to stand up to a couple of immature boys on the playground.
Fast forward 17 years, and the excitement is back thanks to the Tomb Raider reboot starring none other than Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander (oh, and Hong Kong actor/hottie Daniel Wu). As a 27-year-old woman living in the empowering age of the women’s movement and Time’s Up, I couldn’t wait to watch, but I also wondered, would Lara Croft be the hero we need right now?
The pressure is on
With headlines dominated by women coming forward to fight injustice and inequality, the pressure was on for a film like this. The reboot is based on the 2013 Tomb Raider video game (not the original 1996 version), which was written by Rhianna Pratchett and Susan O’Connor—and that fact gave me high hopes for the film because I knew it was inspired by the work of two women.
“Lara Croft is a truly iconic character,“ Vikander told Vanity Fair. “I think people can identify with her for lots of different reasons, but for me I very much see her as a model for many young women. She’s trying to carve out her place in the world and connect her future with her past. She also has a fantastic mix of traits—tough, smart, vulnerable, plus she’s kick ass!”
And yet, when the trailer dropped, some fans felt the need to point out that Vikander doesn’t have the same large pointy breasts as the original character from the video game. But bless her, Vikander wasn’t going to let people talk about her chest without weighing in. “My breasts are not as pointy as the first Lara, but I had a clear vision of how I wanted to play her,” the 29-year-old actress joked during an interview on The Graham Norton Show. “I was a huge fan as a kid and whilst I was too scared to play the games when I was 10, I learnt all her moves.” She went on to tell the host how excited she was to take on the role, despite having to train her “underdeveloped” muscles for four months to get them into fighting shape.
Knowing that Vikander and I were similarly inspired by Croft’s ability to take on many, many bad guys—and her desire to portray this character as more than just a hot bod in short shorts—made me think I going to see a modern version of the Tomb Raider I loved as a kid.
So does the new Tomb Raider hold up? (*spoilers ahead*)
The 2018 Lara Croft is indeed a model for many young women, like myself. Aside from her complex family history and inheritance, she’s just a girl living in London trying to find her place in this world—and Vikander’s Croft was definitely a more multifaceted character than Jolie’s version.
Unlike the 2001 film, this 2018 reboot revolves around Croft’s early life, before her tomb-raiding days. We get to see Croft go from an inexperienced, naïve and reckless young girl to a brave and strong woman—and for that role, Vikander is the perfect choice. In this coming-of-age story, Vikander is not sexualized in the ways that Jolie was (no shower scenes here). Instead, the Oscar winner really showcased her physical strength, which is refreshingly realistic and relatable. Every time I saw the actor make a run for it, I felt more and more inspired to *actually* go for that jog that I’ve been promising myself.
The reboot had a promising start with the set up of the first scene as Croft fights another female boxer in a training ring, and then has a little heart-to-heart with her friend Sophie (Hannah John-Kamen). With that one scene, the film technically passes the Bechdel Test because it has two female characters having a conversation that isn’t about a man—but that passing grade is short-lived. It seemed like all the female actors disappeared after the first quarter of the film. Like, whyyyy? Vikander deserved better.
The lack of strong female representation is a detail even Vikander noticed on set. “I was wondering, I was on this island like, ‘There’s not enough women, where are they?’ I was running around looking for them,” she said on BBC’s The One Show when asked about the lack of female characters in the film.
I also couldn’t help but notice how often the young tomb raider couldn’t save herself from trouble. Don’t get me wrong. Her bravery and strength got her through many of the obstacles throughout the film, but in those pivotal life-or-death scenes, if she wasn’t rescued by her father or male companion Lu Ren (Wu), Croft wouldn’t have survived to star in the second film. Just saying.
So is this a Tomb Raider for the Time’s Up age? Not entirely. It definitely missed a lot of opportunities to be better than the original. I’m not saying it should’ve been an Ocean’s 8-style reboot with an all-female cast, but wouldn’t it have been nice if Vikander was accompanied by at least a few more female companions (like it was originally written in the 2013 game) or to have her fighting not for her father, but for herself and her own story? And I mean really, how can the only female-heavy scenes be in the first 15 minutes of the movie? It’s 2018 people.
Although it may not be a movie ideal for this age of women’s empowerment, I still enjoyed the film. Even though there was a lack of female presence (ugh), watching a strong female badass take on the over-confident, dim-witted men on the big screen is still worth the price of admission. At the very least, the reboot will inspire you to get to the gym and continue to fight the patriarchy.
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