As some of you may know, I was on the road last week. And I am soon to be on the road again in the next few days — headed for ClexaCon! If you’re going to be there, stop by the Dirt Road Books table and say HOWDY.
Okay, so I managed to catch the latest incarnation of Tomb Raider, this one starring Alicia Vikander and based on the 2013 video game reboot of the Lara Croft origin story. This reboot puts Lara on the fictional remote Japanese island of Yamatai. In the game, she has to save her friends and escape the island while being hunted by an evil cult. She ended up on the island because she was in search of the lost kingdom of Yamatai, but a storm strands her and others on the island as a result of the shipwreck.
So that’s the premise of the film reboot for 2018. We’re going to get Lara Croft’s origin story.
CAUTION! LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD!
The original, some of you may remember, dropped in 2001 and starred Angelina Jolie. That movie was based on the 1996 video game of the same name and much ado was made about Jolie’s bust size, because game character Lara Croft was known for that aspect of her physical appearance.
I could get up on a soapbox here and go on and on about that, because it actually did come up with regard to Vikander’s interpretation of Croft, and if you venture into certain areas of the Interwebz, you’ll of course find discussions and indignation that revolve around Vikander’s bust size and how she can’t possibly be Tomb Raider or Lara Croft because omg she’s too flat-chested and oh noez whatever shall we do upon discovering that women are diverse?
Also, defining women by just their breasts and size thereof is a douche move (but oh, so typical) and claiming that these complaints are just about “staying true to the original character” is also a douche move because guess what? It keeps you trapped in stereotypes. Moving beyond those in canon allows us to open all kinds of possibilities in terms of interpretations.
So I like new visions, and Vikander brings a scrappy, underdog energy to the role in contradiction to Jolie’s smooth, rich, badassery. That’s one of the things that I found really intriguing about this incarnation, was its prequel status.
We get to see Lara Croft before she was the Tomb Raider. We get to watch her grow into the role (along the lines of the 2013 game), because Vikander’s Croft has refused to deal with the family fortune(s) after the disappearance of her father, and is still holding out hope that he’ll turn up. The family company’s handler (played by the perpetually classy and acclaimed Kristin Scott Thomas) keeps trying to get Lara to sign off on the papers that acknowledge her father’s death, but Lara just can’t bring herself to do it so instead she barely gets by as a bike courier, and is behind on probably all her bills, including paying the gym where she works out.
So we’re getting the story of Lara Croft before she became the smooth, rich badass that was Jolie’s interpretation, and oh, lordie, Vikander takes a beating in this film because she’s young, inexperienced at this world adventuring thing, and unlike Jolie’s Croft, she hasn’t gone to university to learn a jillion languages or develop mad awesome spy skills. Vikander’s Croft is untested and unschooled and it just made me root harder for her.
And I enjoyed watching her put what she did know to work for her, and watching how she learned on the fly. We got glimpses of that inherent ability in the early part of the film during her bike courier work, but we really see it start to gel a little over halfway through and then the last third of the film is nonstop action with Croft totally in the moment, focused, and organically learning this job on the fly.
The basic plot of the film is thus:
When we first meet Vikander’s Croft, she’s getting her ass handed to her in a sparring session at the gym where she works out. We find out she doesn’t make much money (she’s behind on her gym payments) even though she’s working as a bike courier. But we soon learn that she’s just refused to engage with the family fortunes in the wake of her father’s disappearance 7 years earlier. She’s “not that kind of Croft,” she tells Ana (Kristin Scott Thomas).
But then she realizes she needs to sign the paperwork that will legally acknowledge her father’s death and put her in charge of the Croft holdings and companies because if she doesn’t, she could lose all of it. However, at the initial sit-down to sign, she’s presented with an object that is one of those twisty-puzzle things. She figures it out almost immediately and there’s a key revealed and a note from her dad.
Well, Lara is really, really good at solving all kinds of puzzles. So she figures out where to use the key — her dad’s secret research room beneath the family tomb, where he was working on a project regarding the Japanese leader Himiko, a powerful woman who was rumored to have supernatural powers so terrible that finally, she was entombed on a remote Japanese island and if anyone manages to find her resting place, there could be hell to pay.
So Lara goes through Dad’s papers regarding Himiko and discovers an email from a Chinese captain and she realizes that her dad may not be dead. He might’ve gone looking for Himiko. So off she goes on her first big adventure to this remote island, and she does manage to track down the Chinese captain’s son, Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), whose father also went missing 7 years earlier and Lara realizes the two men disappeared together.
So she and Lu Ren form an unlikely but strong camaraderie as they go in search of this island and, hopefully, will find their fathers. Or at least find out what happened to them. But when they get to the island, there’s a whole hell of a lot more going on there and as in movies like the Indiana Jones series, Lara will have to team up to a certain extent with the villains in order to advance her own goals and her father’s goal, which was to keep the bad guys from finding Himiko.
I’ll leave it there, because there are some cool plot twists that I don’t want to spoil.
The things I really enjoyed about this incarnation of the Tomb Raider include, as I’ve said, Vikander’s scrappy underdog. She’s full of heart, loyal almost to a fault, and willing to put herself on the line to do what needs to be done. She may be untested as a badass, but she ends up being a badass because she just sucks it up and does what needs to be done. And okay, hello. Why would you not want to watch Vikander in action?
And I loved the relationship she had with Lu Ren. It’s so refreshing to see a (presumably) straight woman and man who have each other’s backs in the field without resorting to sex and/or the potential of sex. These two have a bond through the loss of their fathers, and through facing a whole hell of a lot of hardship together and I loved how they worked together and helped each other. They’re battle buddies, and if Vikander reprises this role in future films, I hope they continue their battle buddy vibe. Plus, I enjoy Daniel Wu as an actor and love watching him, so hopefully he’ll come back as that battle buddy for her if they do another Tomb Raider film.
I also liked what Croft realized about the long-gone ruler Himiko. I’m not going to go into too much detail about that, but there’s an interesting layer about how women perceived as having some kind of power historically have been interpreted, and here Lara is — the one woman in a varied group of dudes — and she figures out right away what the real story is.
So yeah, it’s an adventure film with lots of stunts and action and a possible conspiracy undergirding what’s happening on the island, but it’s also got some subtleties going on in terms of a woman as a lead action figure.
Which brings me to one of the cons of this film. Basically, Lara Croft is the only woman in it with the exception of a very few secondary characters. And yeah, she’s front and center, but I kept thinking about the most recent Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, which was full of strong women — women were integral to it and its plot. In the Tomb Raider reboot (like the earlier TR films), Lara Croft is the central figure, which makes sense, but there’s not really any supporting female cast.
In a way, we could argue that Himiko — a woman — is a driving force in the plot and ties Lara to Yamatai and the search for her father, but Himiko is not an active part of the plot because she’s been allegedly gone for centuries. So there are peripherally strong women who are helping move the plot a bit, but the majority of this cast is male.
Vikander herself expressed disappointment about the lack of women characters in the film. An argument could be made that in terms of the canon of the video games, the Croft character is pretty much the primary (and possibly only) female representation. Still, I’d like to see some greater creative license taken in that regard, and if there is another TR film with Vikander as Croft, maybe it’ll include more strong female characters. I hope so.
But overall, this is a fun adventure film with great pacing and plenty of Vikander taking hits but dishing them out, too. She also figures things out and operates well on the fly, which is fun (though stressful) to watch. She’s got kind of that “every woman” vibe — she didn’t expect to be put in these positions, but dammit, she wants to find out what happened to her dad, which makes it a story that a lot of people can relate to. She’s not a damn hero. She’s a young woman who wants to find something out about her past. That makes her relatable, so when she goes and starts kicking ass (and making mistakes), we can see ourselves in her, trying to figure shit out and doing what we can. And she’s personable and, as I said, loyal, as we find out when she tries to get Lu Ren out of bad situations.
See it on the big screen if you can, because the action sequences are really cool and I guarantee you will be rooting for Lara Croft throughout. And despite the lack of female rep throughout, Croft is a badass and a great role model for both young girls and boys. Any time a woman kicks ass like Croft, and who is accepted by her male battle buddies — hell, that’s some good stuff to emulate.
Happy Friday and may The Force be with you.