We Need To Adjust the Way We Talk About Lara Croft
Now that Tomb Raider is out and not doing as well as it could be, the hot takes are coming forward to figure out what went wrong! Well, the first mistake was trying to go up against Black Panther, but from what I’ve seen the critical response to the movie has been meh and that comes the script.
Right now, reactions seem split between gamers who saw the movie and liked it and those, like myself, who think the acting is fine, but the movie itself is really slow and not a lot of fun to watch. Definitely watchable, but not fun. Yet, I still feel protective of Lara as a character and the films in general. Hence why I took some umbrage with this line from The Hollywood Reporter:
The problem, though, is that Tomb Raider is very much the kind of big-budget action film that falls apart as soon as you think about it. True, there’s nothing quite so outrageous here as there was in the Angelina Jolie-starring efforts, but that only makes it easier to pick apart this film. Vikander’s talent shines through, to the point where it’s painfully obvious that she’s much, much better than a Lara Croft movie ever could deserve.
What does that … mean?
Yes, Alicia Vikander is a fantastic actress and so is Angelina Jolie. In fact, both of them had already won Oscars by the time they took on the iconic role of Lara Croft. This genre-elitest idea that video games movies can’t be “good” is flawed. Yes, we haven’t had a good one yet, but that’s not because video games don’t contain good narratives, great stories, and compelling characters. As a long time Fire Emblem fan, I can tell you that I have more attachment to the characters I’ve met there in comparison to most film characters. So I think that the most recognizable and iconic video game action heroine deserves a good film.
The problem isn’t that games don’t have a solid foundation for a movie adaptation, the problem is that video games are an interactive media where you are directly involved in the character development of the protagonist(s) and it is a bond you form over multiple hours, not just a 1hr 59-minute runtime. For the type of film that Tomb Raider wants to be, you need to actually be invested in developing Lara as a character, not a collection of cool-girl tropes.
As the above review explains, Lara’s personality shifts back and forth for whatever the story wants to communicate with her from scene to scene. It does not tell us much about who she is, just what she needs to be. Tomb Raider doesn’t not work because it’s based on a game, it doesn’t work because it’s not well written.
There is a great Tomb Raider movie out there somewhere. I loved the first Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. I recognize its flaws as a film, but those flaws come from it leaning in way too heavy on the gaze. That’s something we don’t give Jolie enough credit for trying to stifle herself.
I want to talk about one more issue that I’ve been sitting with over the weekend. When we talk about the idea that Lara only exists in the male gaze and that her cool, tomboy personality only exists to be for a male fantasy, we do a disservice to ourselves. Yes, Lara will always exist as both a sexualized figure and an action female icon, but that doesn’t mean her story doesn’t have value and that women don’t respond to the film, problematic it may be. For many of us who grew up with the original LCTR film, it was one of the first times we saw a woman be a badass all by herself.
In the “Screen Prism” video essay about Lara Croft, they claim that by giving her no backstory in the original film, it removes agency from Lara and that by going back, Lara can now, as the director says, “feel like a real girl”. I disagree with that and a lot of things about the essay, and even though I think it’s really interesting, this “now Lara is a real person” narrative I find laughable.
Lara Croft, in no version of the series, is a “real girl” she is a gorgeous petite white woman who is fabulously wealthy. In fact, one of the things that I found sort of unlikable about Lara in the new movie is that she was “fake poor.” Add on the whole new backstory they give with her father on the island and I’m not sure what that is trying to do with her either.
It is fine for Lara to be wish fulfillment for women in the sense that she is an unattainable rich, badass woman, who can get any man or what she wants just like Batman. We can be happy that we are giving Lara a more “athletic” body, but let us not act like we are celebrating a body-type that doesn’t get any representation.
I have no doubt that we will have a “great” Lara Croft movie, but that will come with giving Lara what she deserves to not be judged solely on her body, but on her character. Regardless of where you stand on the movie, the fact is that Lara’s body has been at the forefront of this conversation from the beginning. Instead of caring about how she is written, we care about what she looks like and in that regard, Alicia and Lara deserve better.
(via The Hollywood Reporter, image: Paramount/Warner Bros.)
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