Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
You’ll have to forgive my ignorance about this series, as I’ve never played any of the Tomb Raider games. This is mainly because the first non-Nintendo/Sega system I’ve ever owned is the X-Box One that mostly sees use as a Netflix/Amazon Prime/YouTube machine. (Though, I have been playing way too much Subnautica lately. That shit is addictive.) I am generally aware of Tomb Raider as a cultural phenomenon, but I don’t know literally anything about the games other than Lara Croft’s general appearance and the fact that she’s generally armed with two pistols (though apparently the more recent game has her armed with a bow and arrow, because we decided a few years ago that every female action hero uses a bow and arrow now) and a surprising amount of sex appeal considering how polygonal she looked in her heyday.
This was basically one of those harmless but not great action movies that probably wouldn’t provoke a lot of strong opinions in either direction were it not for the fact that it’s based on a wildly popular video game series. It objectifies the hell out of Lara, because of course it does, but it feels kind of silly to complain about when I knew what I was getting into going in. (I have to admit, I nearly laughed out loud when Lara strode onto the Siberian tundra in the most bashful suggestion of a coat, which somehow managed to leave almost the entire front half of her body uncovered, and then immediately lost the coat before there were any shots of her from behind. How can I even be mad at that?)
I wasn’t expecting a lot, and I guess this was good enough for the most part. I really would’ve liked to get a bit more in terms of plot and characterization, because I think even the most vapid action movies shouldn’t skimp on those, but I’m not about to lose any sleep over it.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
Angelina Jolie plays the titular Lara, an aristocratic archeologist who always stays abreast of the latest discoveries. When an ancient temple is unearthed, Lara fears it may lead to the discovery of a chest of unlimited destructive potential, nestled in the bosom of civilization. In order to find this chest she needs to study a lot of orbs, and bust a lot of enemies along the way. Let’s just hope they don’t have bazookas.
Yes, these movies (and, from what I hear, the games) superficially resemble the sort of power fantasies that men have always been able to enjoy thanks to the likes of James Bond and whatnot. Yes, that is seriously undercut by the fact that, as I more than alluded to, these movies (and, from what I hear, the games) luridly fixate on Lara as an object of desire, and are pretty clearly made with horny young straight boys in mind. As far as objectification goes, though, I still maintain that this has to be among the less genuinely pernicious examples out there, because you just know exactly what you’re getting into going in. (Also, like, as a queer trans [enby] I always have this weird reaction to mostly harmless objectification where my first reaction is “ugh” my second reaction is “hot, though” and my third reaction is “I wish I could pull that off.”)
A lot of the things that make Lara designed to placate the audience are, however, also what make her somewhat refreshing among action heroes. Like, I know why she’s one of the few “badass action heroes” that smiles and laughs an awful lot (she’s meant to feel approachable to those same horny boys), but knowing the motivations behind those things doesn’t make them unwelcome. It is nice to have an action hero seem like they’d not be a total chore to have a conversation with. You’re supposed to like heroes. That’s part and parcel of what gets you to invest in them and want them to achieve their wants and needs. So while the motivations behind it (conscious or otherwise) might be less than ideal, the effects are not all bad.
Also, like, there’s nothing wrong with girls getting a bit of superficial, fist pumping “girl power” out of something like this. No, Lara as depicted here isn’t actually an empowering figure. No, you can’t call this a “feminist” film without getting laughed out of the room. But if you get something positive out of it, that’s great. Just so long as you have both eyes open to the many, many, many ways in which this is actually none of those things.
It’s cool to see Lara jet skiing and doing whatever that thing is where they jump off the building in a sort of jacket with wings and fly. Is that actually a thing? I might want to try that. No, I don’t. Yes, I do. No, no, I don’t. But it’s cool that she can do it.
Of course, if you’ll allow me to take this a little more seriously than I probably should, the Tomb Raider movies (especially this one) also follow in the footsteps of Bond and Indiana Jones by using foreign countries and the people who live there as backgrounds for white people to run around fighting and outsmarting each other. But, like, you have to know you’re getting into that with this sort of story.
Really, though, at the end of the day this is just a silly, fun-but-forgettable action movie with some pretty serious flaws, and that’s an okay thing to be. I don’t think the objectification in this movie is insidious enough to be genuinely harmful, especially 15 years later. Most of all, I’m not especially sure why the first movie got mixed reviews and this one got just absolutely venomous ones. It’s really not that bad. If anything, I think I might’ve actually liked it slightly better than the first one.
Tomb Raider (2018)
Yeah, this was fine. It’s one of those perfectly competent blockbusters that I’m not going to remember a lot about or go out of my way to see again anytime soon, but it has its exciting moments and extremely likable lead so that’s all that’s really needed to do what it’s trying to do. It sure would be nice if this franchise were turned over to a female director, but the camera doesn’t leer at Alicia Vikander as blatantly as it did at Angelina Jolie (not that that’s an especially high bar to clear), so there’s that at least. And there was some genuinely fun stuff in this, the highlight of which might’ve been the bicycle chase early in the film.
Also, the fact that Lara has MMA training in this and her fighting style is geared towards choking her opponents makes me feel a little weak-kneed, not gonna lie.