Tomb Raider Gives Lara Croft A Serviceable Origin Story
In 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Angelina Jolie gave us a Lara Croft who was as confident as she was powerful. Now, 17 years later, director Roar Uthang has provided some insight into how Croft got to be such a badass in the first place.
Based on Square Enix’s series of Tomb Raider video games (specifically Enix’s 2013 reboot instalment), Tomb Raider follows Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) as she travels from London to Hong Kong to find out why her archaeologist father, Lord Richard Croft (The Wire’s Dominic West), disappeared seven years prior.
She gets some help from a sailor named Lu Ren (Geostorm’s Daniel Wu) but runs into trouble when she and Lu are found and captured by the shifty Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). According to Mathias, a nefarious organization called Trinity hired him and his crew to find and unlock the tomb of Himiko, the almighty Queen of Yamatai. He needs to get his hands on Richard’s Himiko research documents and, as it turns out, Lara conveniently has those documents stored away in her backpack. Oops.
Lara knows she can’t let Mathias unleash Himiko’s potentially lethal powers, but it takes a while for her to figure out how to stop him. Unlike Jolie’s Lara, Vikander’s Lara is strong but inexperienced, intelligent but ignorant when it comes to her father’s very specific and very dangerous line of work. It’s a refreshing change that gives Tomb Raider a bit of a superhero origin story flair and allows audiences to relate to the new Lara in ways they may not have been able to relate to the old one. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider gave us a hero that seemed fearless and indestructible. Tomb Raider, on the other hand, gives us a hero that gets visibly wounded, hurt, and terrified but prevails in spite of all that—a narrative that resonates especially strongly in 2018.
Vikander’s Lara is also considerably less sexualized than Jolie’s Lara—Uthang mercifully omitted the lecherous glances and male gaze-y camera angles typically found in female-led action movies. But while Vikander adeptly uses her Oscar-winning talents to sell the film’s more emotionally grounded moments, her acting chops get overshadowed by the film’s need to provide exposition about Richard, Himiko, and Trinity. If we get a Tomb Raider sequel (which, if the film’s cliff-hanger is to be believed, we probably will), it’d be nice to see Lara in a position where she has to reconcile her working-class East London life with her butt-kicking, globe-trotting life.
It’d also be nice to see Lara and Lu bond and interact with one another on a more personal level. Give us a Croft-Ren buddy cop movie where Lara is the stubborn but sympathetic good cop and Lu is the bad cop who’ll begrudgingly give you his respect if you find a way to impress him. Give us a Croft-Ren road trip movie where Lara and Lu learn to respect and work with one another despite their differences. The energetic, impassioned Lara and the blunt but well-meaning Lu balance each other out quite nicely, so it’s a shame they don’t share more screen time.
At its worst, Tomb Raider is an uninteresting reboot that’s almost as full of plot holes (Richard’s documents somehow remain intact even though Lara and her backpack very nearly drown) as it is with action-packed fight scenes and impressive feats of strength. But at its best, Tomb Raider is a serviceable action flick that introduces new audiences to the power of Lara Croft and, at times, smartly subverts harmful narratives commonly associated with women. In many ways, it improves upon 2001’s Lara Croft by establishing Lara as a flawed and multifaceted person rather than a two-dimensional “strong woman” archetype and by depicting Lara’s story in a way that for the most part, reflects modern sensibilities and beliefs.
Tomb Raider’s biggest problem is that it seems content being just another movie rather than what it and future Tomb Raider installments could be—a Mad Max-esque female-driven action film that comments on and challenges action-adventure tropes instead of continuing to employ them. And with any luck, future Tomb Raider writers and directors will recognize the franchise’s potential and use it to give us a movie that’s more compelling than the one we have now.
Tomb Raider is in theatres today. Check out the trailer below.